Do you get caught up in the speed to proposal? Are you missing the bigger sales opportunity? In Episode 35 of the Strategic Insights Podcast, Tim Deuitch, Bo Smith and special guest Seth Baker, Director of Sales at Tierney, share strategies to help sales people slow down and avoid blind spots so they fully understand their customer’s needs before suggesting solutions.
Tim Deuitch: 00:01 Hello, and welcome to the Strategic Insights Podcast brought to you by Strategic Enhancement Group. I am Tim Deuitch, Senior Performance Consultant with Strategic Enhancement Group. Today I'm joined by two esteemed sales professionals. One represents the voice of one of my customers and the other represents the wisdom of a colleague of mine. My customer is Seth Baker, Director of Sales at Tierney. Tierney is a technology company that provides state-of-the-art technology solutions to the private and the public sector. Welcome Seth.
Seth Baker: 00:39 Thank you. Thanks for having me, Tim.
Tim Deuitch: 00:41 It's great to have you here. And my colleague from SEG, Strategic Enhancement Group, who came to us after a long career in sales management and the newspaper and magazine publishing business. He is SEG performance consultant, Bo Smith. Welcome Bo
Bo Smith: 00:58 Tim, thank you very much. Glad to be here.
Tim Deuitch: 01:00 Thanks for joining, both of you. So let's get clear on today's topic: Battling the Blind Spots That Cost You a Better Sale. So what we mean here is not costing you a sale at all. We're looking at what are the blind spots, the things, the information we could uncover that would create a much larger or potentially a much larger sale for us. So we'll talk today about what are the skills, what are the preparation that we could use to make sure we uncover the full needs that a customer has so we can recommend the absolute top sale that we can possibly recommend.
So let's start with the concept of the blind spot. My son had a fender bender just last year, 17 year old kid, hopefully it's his last. He didn't look in his blind spot. He swerved over and boom, you know, nobody was hurt.
Both cars were damaged a little bit, both are fixed. Now off we go, this blind spot doesn't have as much downside ramifications in the sales world, right? We're talking about the ability to intentionally look into a blind spot, look for more opportunity and to see if we can't make a better sale. That's our focus today. So Seth, let's start with you. Tierney is in the business of upgrading technology for corporations and government and school systems and your sales team is focused in the private sector. So for you, what does this proposal moment or the speed to proposal moment look like and how can it cost you a larger sale?
Seth Baker: 02:36 Tim, it can be really easy for my AEs to get caught up in that speed to proposal situation. When we receive a lead for a technology upgrade, the first thing we typically do is request an onsite visit. It's very easy when you get there to go down the path of spending that onsite visit on technical details of the space and then turning it over to engineering and then delivering a proposal. And with that, sometimes you skip those key discovery steps and that not only costs us the small sale, but we also lose the ability to become that long-term partner and future business with that client.
Tim Deuitch: 03:23 So it's sort of a tease, right? You might solve the widget issue, but the bigger picture you don't really enter if you're not as intentional.
Seth Baker: 03:34 Absolutely.
Tim Deuitch: 03:35 Okay. So Bo, how has this phenomenon been reflected in your sales experience? What's the challenge that salespeople need to overcome? You know, when they get this live one, right? What's the challenge they need to overcome first?
Bo Smith: 03:50 You know, Tim, we all know the adrenaline rush you get from making a sale, and that's one of the satisfactions of the job. But for those of us who are striving to be a professional salesperson, a counselor salesperson, the focus is different. It's not about selling quickly or making the sale at all costs, or maybe being tempted to discount.
Instead at Strategic Enhancement Group, we look at things from the buyer's point of view, that means slowing down and doing a thorough discovery, asking deep questions, and then fully listening to get to the customer's real needs. So then we can come up with a total solution. If you're in this business for the long run, as we've been for 37 years, that kind of discovery shouldn't come quickly. There are no shortcuts. Research shows that with the internet today's buyer is doing more homework than ever. And when they get to the point of reaching out to a salesperson, they're looking for a trusted advisor, that's the reputation we strive for, for our clients.
Tim Deuitch: 04:54 It was interesting, you just said, there's no shortcuts. But sometimes the customer uses the internet as you described for that shortcut, they've actually liked the shortcut. And so as much as we want to be a trusted advisor, I think what the candy that we receive as a salesperson is that speed to the sale or our desire to say, you know what, we can do that for you. We can cover that. That's perceived as competence on our behalf. That we fool ourselves. Right? We see the opportunity with all right, got this thing covered. What do you think about that Bo?
Bo Smith: 05:35 It is Tim you're right, but our role is to be there for the client to be the best possible counselor that we can be. And so I'm in it for the long run. All of us are in it for the long run. And so we want to look out for the customer and that means that, you know, sometimes we gently have to educate them and nudge them in the right direction.
Tim Deuitch: 05:59 Yeah. So let's take that. So at the core of all this is the desire to have the fullest picture possible. The fullest discovery of a client's situation. So battling that blind spot of moving too fast has a lot of payoffs if we do it well. So Seth back at you, you've seen both kinds of the sale, right? The quick hit. And then the larger value of the comprehensive recommendation of sales. So, what's the value in your business of the salesperson figuring out how to go deeper?
Seth Baker: 06:36 I will start off by saying Tim, that a deeper discovery is absolutely essential in our business. There are 15 plus organizations locally and maybe more that have access to the same product breadth that we do. So there's a lot of competition and we have to show value to our clients beyond just product. And an example that I will give you, or a story, is I recently had one of my AEs visit a potential client who had sent in a request for a conference room upgrade, and that AE instead of going in and just focusing on that single space, that single room, three months later, that project expanded into $150,000 opportunity locally, but he also helped the organization develop a global technology strategy. And that, I mean, that's the little thing that taking your time on that discovery piece can turn into. It's just, it's amazing.
Tim Deuitch: 07:44 Wow. So that didn't happen by accident. So, we're going to talk in a little bit, we're going to talk about what are the ways we can prepare to maximize, what are the skills we can use to maximize, but what would be one thing that happened in that story, which is a fantastic sales story. What's the one thing that you might say that your AE did that was a fork in the road. If he went left it's just the conference room. If he went right. Wow. It expands. What's the one thing?
Seth Baker: 08:19 I think for this situation specifically, he was prepared going in to take his time and have a longer conversation. And even though that request came in, that lead came in for that single space, that single solution, he did take his time and really, really prepared to ask deeper questions about the organization in general.
Tim Deuitch: 08:42 Oh, that's perfect. So here's what I'd like us to do then. We're gonna take preparation first. So you said prepared, so that's perfect. We're going to do a rapid fire because I want each of us to describe a few of these blind spots. One in the preparation realm, how can we prepare better? And then the other, and the skills, what basic skills can we use, so we'll do a rapid fire. We'll sling them out there and then we'll come back around and we'll do a little descriptor of each of them. We'll get it. In other words, we'll get under the surface. Okay. So Seth kick us off. What's your first piece of advice on preparing better?
Seth Baker: 09:24 I think my first one would be assumed, or a narrow agenda, that customer needs something specific. So we're only going to go in and talk about that.
Tim Deuitch: 09:34 Your AE was a classic example of preparing beyond that. I've got one, the blind spot is planning for just a single primary contact. It's like, they look down at the sheet and they say, all right, who am I meeting with? And I'm only worried about that person. That’s a blind spot we’ll talk to in a second. Bo, what do you have?
Bo Smith: 09:59 You know, Tim, believe it or not research shows that the typical sales person only spends seven minutes in preparation for a sales call, seven minutes. That's how important this is. So an example of a blind spot could be where the process is not clear. Well, I can tell you, we explain the process to the customer. That's not a blind spot with us.
Tim Deuitch: 10:23 Seven minutes. And that seven minutes is usually in the parking lot outside of the client. Is that possible? I'm sure Seth's team doesn't do that, but a lot of teams do. Seth, what's another one?
Seth Baker: 10:38 Well, the other one I would say would be go it alone and not taking the time to potentially bring in other voices into that conversation.
Tim Deuitch: 10:47 Got it. Exactly. So, you don't have to be a lone ranger is what you're saying. You can bring the other people in. So we've got four prep, blind spots to review. Again. One is too narrow of an agenda. One is planning only for the primary contact. The other is being able to convey the process that you'll go through with that customer to recommend the solution. And the fourth one is going it alone. So let's shift to skills. The blind spot about skills, and I'll start with one. And that is the blind spot of going too fast, just reacting too quickly to a need. You see a problem. I can solve that problem and we shut down a dialogue beyond that one narrow solution we get to play. Bo what's another one?
Bo Smith: 11:42 Tim frequently in the desire for a quick sale, the salesperson asked too narrow a set of questions, maybe focusing on just a few facts, but not the big picture and the larger benefits. Seth's story is a perfect example of how to do it right. And help the client see the big picture.
Tim Deuitch: 11:59 Excellent. Seth, what do you have?
Seth Baker: 12:03 I would say Technical Mindset, Tim. Instead of having that curious holistic view of that client and their organization.
Tim Deuitch: 12:15 That makes perfect sense. You've got 15. What did you say? 15 competitors who all can sell the same things.
Seth Baker: 12:22 Absolutely.
Tim Deuitch: 12:23 So you got to take it off of the technical solution. I have another one, which is building enough trust. Again, this is where sometimes speed to "What do you need done?" We jump over just the building blocks and the cornerstones of building trust. We'll touch on that in a little bit, but that's so pivotal to being able to expand the conversation where we need to go. Bo what's another one?
Bo Smith: 12:53 When you're discerning a client's total needs, it's about getting beyond just the surface and fully listening and then confirming what you think you heard and asking if there's anything that you left out?
Tim Deuitch: 13:05 Yes. Instead of sort of taking an order. So they say, I have this problem, I have this problem and I have this problem. You're like, okay. That's actually when you start learning as opposed to I've learned. It's just the beginning. So those were our skills blind sets. We move too fast. We ask very narrow questions that don't expand as to the big picture. We are too technically focused, and we don't build enough trust. Those are the primary components where we don't get beyond the surface. So let's come back to those preparation pieces and dig a little bit deeper. Seth, you mentioned that the agenda's too narrow. What's the right agenda that sets the stage for deeper discovery?
Seth Baker: 14:00 The way that I kind of describe it with my team is using those discovery preparation tools that allows us to expand the conversation with the client. And, I think some of those things are like using the PPP, like a questions in advance to the customer, an agenda for the meeting that's going to keep everybody on track. Those are really some of the keys that we try to use day-to-day.
Tim Deuitch: 14:28 So they're actually using a tool, something that guides them in the preparation process as opposed to simply sitting in that proverbial parking lot outside the client and making notes.
Seth Baker: 14:42 Yes. And I think it also helps the account executive be able to think through, okay, I'm going to research this organization before I go in and I really got to think about, maybe some of these are the key questions based on what I'm researching. And then I'm going to send that out ahead of time instead of hopefully think about them while I'm sitting there in the meeting.
Tim Deuitch: 15:05 That's perfect, send them out ahead of time. It leads me to that blind spot that I brought up, which is only talking to the primary contact. We all know, especially in B2B sales there are at least two, if not four people involved in a buying decision and they are different influences at different points along the way. So why not say in advance in the agenda and begin to share that you can't possibly make the best recommendation if you don't have the voice of everyone involved.
That meeting agenda should include requests for introductions to others. Who should we share the results of this initial meeting with? So you get a chance to learn who else is involved in the process and the decisions to have the best chance possible to get the multiple voices you need to make the best recommendation possible. So looking into the blind spot begins with crafting an agenda that already establishes that you are ready to listen to others in the equation.
Bo that process blind spot. Talk a little bit about that.
Bo Smith: 16:31 You know, Tim, one thing I see consistently is the sales person, doesn't communicate up front the process, they and their company take to recommend a solution. Many salespeople wish they could have spoken with a particular influencer or end-user after the fact. When you indicate upfront that you need to gather information from multiple relevant sources, that gives you a solid chance for complete depth. Your process can also clearly indicate the range of information you need. Technical cost parameters, satisfaction requirements, experience requirements, peace of mind, tangible and intangibles. Remember, "Features tell, Benefits sell."
Tim Deuitch: 17:15 Okay. "Features tell, Benefits sell." So that links back to your tangible/intangible, the range of things you're learning? Is that correct Bo?
Bo Smith: 17:27 Absolutely.
Tim Deuitch: 17:28 Okay. So I love what you said about the range of information you need. Again, that's sort of that advice that gets us off the too technical, right? I need to know more and understand more. Okay. So Seth, what about the blind spot of going it alone? What's the value that to have more than you on that call a salesperson?
Seth Baker: 17:50 Well, I think during our conversation right now, I have multiple examples that are starting to resonate in my head of opportunities that just completely stopped and really right around this conversation, this topic because we didn't ask ahead of time to get others involved. There's a countless amount where I can pinpoint that exact thing is what really probably stopped the opportunity from moving forward.
So I think what you really need to be able to do is make sure there's advanced knowledge of what's needed and who needs to be there and then inviting others is going to expand our company's capabilities in their eyes. And then I think last too is also being able to bring in that expertise, even virtually is a great next step these days.
Tim Deuitch: 18:47 Yeah. That last point, well, all the points are strong, but that last one about virtually, say a little bit more about that. You have a situation at Tierney where there's you, the salesperson who are present on site, and then where you might bring somebody in virtually. What's the scenario where you would do that?
Seth Baker: 19:06 Yeah, absolutely. You know, it depends on a lot of times the complexity of the solution that we're looking at. So we do have a team of engineers here locally that will also come in, so a lot of times we'll bring in them in virtually and as well as on-site face-to-face meetings.
Tim Deuitch: 19:25 Okay and so your engineers in a classical sense meet with their engineers, right?
Seth Baker: 19:33 Yes. So a lot of times, once you're able to get multiple people in that room, and it's not just the IT technical person talking to the sales rep or account executive, we actually truly start to get collaborative with that client and have an engineer that can speak a little bit of that IT language, but then that AE is able to kind of take everything and think about it more holistic. What's the benefit to that organization? What's the value that it could bring to them? And that's the key.
Tim Deuitch: 20:08 Love it. All right. Well, that's fantastic. Let's shift to the behavioral piece, the ways that our particular skills can either get in the way, or can actually be used to uncover those blind spots. So Seth, we're going right back at you, shifting to use skills, to gain a deeper understanding of customer needs. Talk about the blind spot of being too technical minded.
Seth Baker: 20:39 Well, I think I'm going to say right off, the focus has to be on the benefits desired from the upgraded technology. And really, if you think about that, we have to figure out what does the experience look like that the end users day-to-day crave from that technology? Then also too those that are managing the technology, what frustrations do they want to be able to avoid or manage with that solution?
Tim Deuitch: 21:13 Yes, it's back to that sort of axiom that Bo said, "Features tell, Benefits, sell." So talking about the equipment, you know you're in a blind spot, if you're only talking about equipment, as opposed to what the equipment brings them. Okay. Bo let's shift to the actual questions the salesperson uses. You talked about the blind spot of using just a narrow line of questions. What's your advice for expanding from narrow to broad?
Bo Smith: 21:48 Tim, you need to tee it up well. Let the customer know that you need information on the tangible needs and the intangible benefits, their task motives, their personal motives. Send those top questions in advance, write down your top questions and review them together with the customer. When you summarize their needs, ask follow up and checking questions that give you a more complete picture.
Tim Deuitch: 22:13 I think I know what you mean by task motive, personal motive, but what is, this is a question for either of you, what do you mean by uncovering their motives?
Bo Smith: 22:32 There's more than just simply coming up with a solution. There are reasons why firms buy, and it's more than just technical as Seth talked about. There can be personal reasons. There can be reasons to satisfy the boss. There can be reasons to enhance your reputation. There are a lot of different reasons why companies and people buy.
Tim Deuitch: 22:52 Okay, got it. I'll tell you what the impulse I had, and I'm not a company in this case and in this little story I have to share with you,I'm just me. I had a crack in my windshield and I contacted a windshield company to come out and fix it. So I had a technical need which is give me a new windshield. But the technician that came out, turned into a salesperson, because he looked at me and he said, you know, what's the quality of the experience you're having through your windshield? And I was like, what did you just ask me? I'm sitting in the driveway, he came and he said, "Well, how's the view you have right now? If I was never here, other than the crack in the windshield, what's the view you have?"
And I said, oh yeah, the wiper, there's this little nick in it. And it just leaves this, this stream of rain in front of my eyes. That's right. And he goes, well, I, I'm not going to replace this windshield and have you have that same experience because I just replaced the windshield, not the wipers, but I do have wipers. If you want me to just go ahead and give you a set of clean wipers right now, I can do that. I'm not going to give it to you. I'm going to sell it to you, but I can solve that. And I looked at him, I was like, that's perfect. I don't want to have the experience that was exactly the one I had before. I don't want that. So it was perfect. So he got it. He surfaced sort of a personal motive of quality I might have had.
I had not sort of manifested it that way until he brought it up. So it was well done. Okay. Let me, bring it back to that essence of speed. The blind spot of speed, where you just go too fast. That windshield technician never could have asked me that question and I never would have blamed him if I saw that darn bead of rain in front of me again. But he did because he didn't just come in and deal with the initial issue.
So why is it good for us to slow down? The tools we mentioned before: sending a complete agenda in advance, Bo like you said, sending key questions in advance are great ways to keep yourself on the right pace. They slow you down because you don't start to just check off things and make a checklist of things to deal with. You have this thing you need to cover.
Another is adopting the stay curious mindset. Now that's kind of pithy, but it's that whenever you find out what the specific needs stated from that customer is your response to them isn't we can do that because you know, that it is why. Why is that important to you? What's the benefit of getting that right for you? That's what we're after. This approach of staying curious helps you confirm the value thereafter, and that is laden in the entire recommendation you make to them.
Seth, so I want to shift us to that all important piece about trust. Building the trust needed for the customer to go beyond the surface and actually give you this deeper information, since you're fabulously prepared now. But, but what are the keys, I'm going to ask Bo as well, what would you say are sort of the keys of building the trust needed so that you can go bigger with the customer?
Seth Baker: 26:29 Yeah. I'm going to share a couple of ideas that I have, but I think I just also want to reiterate that stay curious mindset is just so huge. Asking that Why, its so important when you get to the end of that sale to be able to tell that story beyond just products. So that's that's. That was an awesome comment you had there, Tim, I just wanted to mention that, but I think when, when you talk about building trust I think number one, you have to share your intent to sincerely help that customer and the organization. That really is hopefully to set them at ease that the questions that you're going to ask as a sales individual are going to help them get to the correct solution. And I think that's one of the biggest things for me is just being empathetic and really what that means is openly share what you're not intending with your questions such as selling them more than they need and also that they may not know everything today.
Tim Deuitch: 27:47 Yeah, absolutely. And so by being empathetic, how is it they come towards you? You know, when you're showing that you can put yourself in their shoes, why is it valuable to them? Like how does that build that basic comfort, so that they'll open up a little bit more to you? What do you think is going on there?
Seth Baker: 28:10 Well, I think it's natural that the client is coming into the situation, looking for someone to sell them something. Right? Or thinking that we're there to sell them something. A lot of times too, there are multiple vendors potentially that they're exploring and so I think that we really need to go into those situations and let them know that that's not why we're here. We are truly here to be a partner and help them solve that specific or multiple technology challenges that they might have.
Tim Deuitch: 28:50 Thanks. Bo, what would you add?
Bo Smith: 28:56 Tim, let me tell you a story about trust. There was a new car dealership that I was to call on and new relationship. I did what you or Seth would do. Um, I made an effort to, to really try and help them. And I brought them the latest news on their industry. I kept them informed on local business news that affected them. We developed a trust over time and the general manager said, you know, Bo, I look forward to having you call on me because I always know that you're going to try and bring something that helps me. And ultimately over time we did substantial business. So trust is everything, you know, if you're in this business for the long run, as all of us are, it's just essential.
Tim Deuitch: 29:48 You both come from that same place that you have helped that customer know that you're there to help them as opposed to sell them. Let's summarize if we could. We've covered a lot of ground and what I'd like to do is ask each of you and I'll be in there too, is to review one item out of the blind spot advice that is most important to you. And tell us why you choose that one item and I'll start.
Of all that we've shared today, the one that I think is incredibly valuable and important is the action of explaining your approach to the customer. The approach you take to recommending a solution by explaining, "Hey, these are the steps we go through to make the best possible recommendation. By doing that, you help to potentially expand the scope of the relationship that you can generate with them and have the chance to talk with more people, to get the voice of others and to fully surface those benefits. It's incredible how often the salesperson just jumps over explaining this is how we help you. This is the path we'll take. Are you comfortable taking that path with me? Okay. Bo what's, uh, what's yours,
Bo Smith: 31:33 Tim, I'm going to cheat. So for me, it's a combination. It's asking the thorough questions to do a full discovery combined with fully listening. Turn off that impulse in your head to prepare a response and just listen. This will convey to your prospect that they were truly heard. I chose this combination because you won't discern the total solution for your client without both.
Tim Deuitch: 31:58 Excellent. Seth, what do you have?
Seth Baker: 32:08 Tim? Can I cheat too? No, I, you know, I was thinking through this because this conversation has been, it's been really awesome, but there's two areas that resonate with me and they both have some alignment as well, I think, and that would be the assumed agenda and the technical mindset. And we must be prepared for meetings and we have to take our time. And that includes things like the PPP and questions in advance and a pre-established agenda. And then secondly, is we have to move away from that technical mindset and really think about client benefits and the desired experience in managing and avoiding frustrations. That's really where I want to push my team to move towards, to really help our clients.
Tim Deuitch: 32:56 Well, Seth you started us off by talking about the importance that you place on your team of preparing and there is no question that if they can be preparing to surface benefits, not just technical needs, but benefits, my goodness do you have a chance to differentiate yourself among your competitors. So Bo and Seth, thanks very much to you both. We have covered a tremendous amount and I'm going to take the risk of suggesting that between the two of you, there's about 40 years of sales experience and there may have been a couple of lessons learned along the way, but I don't think there's any question that you're drawing on your successes here. Thank you for your input.
I want to close by, by restating the ultimate why of tackling our blind spots. When you understand the full scope of customer needs, you will satisfy them fully. You generate bigger contracts, you create a champion within that company and a champion for you because you're covering everything they need. You know, with these as the payoffs, it's well worth taking the time to better prepare and to use the skills that slow you down long enough to understand the full situation that the customer has and ensure the best possible solution. So good luck to all you salespeople out there. Slow down so you can speed up.
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