Two of the currently most debated sales methods pits relationship sales vs challenging the prospect. The good news is, they both have some merit. The bad news is, big picture, both are highly flawed and there is a much better method.
The biggest issue with most sales methods is that they live and breathe in the extremes. For instance, arming salespeople with the idea that they need to challenge their prospects, can go very bad. Also, telling salespeople that they need to take the time to build a strong relationship before closing, can push them in another extreme direction. One can come off as adversarial and the other can move much slower than it needs to. Since I regularly get asked my opinion on this subject, here it is.
1. The good and the bad of relationship building as a sales method. Building strong relationships with our prospects and clients is certainly always the right idea. That’s what is most likely to keep them as clients over the long-term. But that doesn’t mean that we have to get extremely close, before creating some commitments and starting a business relationship. Our pre and post close processes should include continually fostering and growing the relationship. But our approach shouldn’t slow buyer momentum or lengthen our sales cycle. If the goal is more sales, the goal should also be to shorten our sales cycle. If we take twice as long to develop initial relationships before closing, we will meet with half as many prospects. And although we may believe that meeting with someone more times will increase our chances of closing, it can also get us ghosted before we get to asking for the sale. Prospects no longer have time (or want) for extra relationship building conversations. There is a very fine line here.
2. The good and the bad of challenging a prospect. As someone who provides sales training/coaching for a living, when someone sells to me, I often think to myself, “They are using the x method.” For the record, the Challenger Method is the worst experience for me (and many others) as a buyer. Especially as a B2B buyer. And although one might argue that the salespeople are doing it wrong, I would argue that the title and the message tell them to do exactly what many buyers take issue with.
Let’s start with what’s good. The idea of learning about your prospect’s business and being an advisor and consultant is dead on. All good sales methods should do that. And providing new ideas and ways for people to think about utilizing our product or service, also good. The problem lies with “challenging” a buyer about their buying decisions for their company. First, as salespeople, we are the expert on our product or service. That is our job. But no matter how much we try to learn about a prospect’s organization, the prospect will remain the (big picture) expert on it. Period. Speaking to or acting otherwise, is a very bad look. So, when a salesperson advises me on their product/service (their expertise), I listen intently and then frame it into how it will affect my company (my expertise) if I purchase it. Challenging me on making the right decision for my company is a really bad idea and only means that they will never have the opportunity to sell to me again. I am not alone in my feelings. This is one of the major flaws with this method. A strong argument for instituting this method is based on the idea that it will help a salesperson “take control” of sales conversations and stop being so passive. Right idea, wrong approach. There is a better way.
3. The Harney Method. What’s a better method in reference to the above?
A. Build relationships and trust quickly, without slowing any buyer momentum toward close. Some prospects might need more relationship development time and some won’t. Learn each individual prospect and deliver. It’s not about how much time WE feel they need to be comfortable enough to move forward.
B. Create equal relationships with prospects. People connect with and trust people that they see as their equal. Coming in too soft makes us look like we aren’t their equal. Challenging prospects comes off as arrogant and unequal in the other direction. Enter the relationship with the prospect as partners, each with expertise and both focused on a great end result for the team.
C. Understand that each prospect is unique. Ask the right questions to identify their unique wants, needs and problems to solve. This is how you properly guide and control the conversation as their partner. Listen! Advise in line with what the PROSPECT has identified as to how you can help them, based on your expertise. Listen again. Deliver on THEIR needs in YOUR expert way. We can and should be strongly engaged and assertive without coming off as arrogant or adversarial.
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