Problem: Early on in my career, I was the king of sales sheets. That was the term we used for all our marketing material. I made sure before I left for the day my briefcase was loaded with all the latest material. I wanted to be armed for anything a prospect would throw at me. We had a file cabinet in the back of the sales room where all the collateral sales material was stored; each with its own labeled slot. One day I was excited because I had a full day of sales calls with prospects I’ve been working to get in front of. Excited, until I went to our marketing cabinet and found the slots empty! Checking in with the sales secretary, she informed me that the copier was broke and she would not be able to print more until later that day. Now panic set in. I had my presentation all set around these materials and now I was armed with nothing!
Analysis: As salespeople, we rely far too heavily on our company’s sales literature. The moment the prospect asks us a question about our company or products and we pull out some slick glossies to help them with the answer, we are headed down the slippery slope of making another commodity pitch.
Solution: The answer is quite simple. Don’t take any literature with you… at least, not on your first call. People don’t buy your products; they buy the net effect they bring. Do you know what net effect your products create? Do you know the problems your customers may be experiencing in the absence of not having your product? This is where your conversation should start.
If that makes you just a little bit uncomfortable, it’s understandable. But it’s quite easy to say early on in the conversation, “You know, I didn’t bring literature with me today. I wasn’t sure what to bring since I really don’t have a good understanding of your issues. Maybe we could spend some time just talking about what you’re looking for. Does that make sense?” Typically the prospect sees this as an invitation to start discussing his issues.
The problem with most companies’ marketing materials is that they are focused on the product. If you talk about your products on the first call, you are taking your prospect down an avenue where he can view you as just another product pusher. When this happens, the conversation quickly digresses to one about your price which, in the absence of talking about their problems, your price will always be too high.
Early in your sales process, qualify prospects to identify if they have an issue you can solve and if they willing to invest in a solution.
Marketing material becomes important later in the sales process and after the prospect has made a commitment to address the issue you uncovered. I’m not saying after they commit to buying from you, rather, after they commit to addressing the issue. They still may buy from someone else so your selling is not done. Marketing material is important at this stage because as soon as people become interested in solving their issues, they’ll start looking for answers. Give them your marketing materials as part of their research.
OK… back to the day I had to make sales calls with no marketing material. I had the appointments booked so I had to go to them. I struggled on the first one, even apologized for not having any product sheets. I struggled through each call by asking questions about them, their business and what challenges they were facing. It was a day that helped turn me from being a product pusher to a solution provider. I became such a believer in not needing marketing material to sell with that I didn’t print any business cards during the first year I ran Performance Group. We just went out and sold.