What Method Do You Lead With? [Updated]

Polishing for More Possibilities

I took the last blog post about "What Method You Lead With?" and developed it further and included some self analysis activities. Let me know what you think. Would you use it? How? Do tell.

Have you ever read a sales book? How many have you read? If you’re in sales you should at least read 3-5…at least! Comparing what you know about selling to the way someone else sees it can help make your approach even better. You don’t have to do what others do, but evaluating the way it may work for another can help you evaluate your own.

SPIN Selling, Selling to VITO, Zig ZIglar’s Secrets to Closing the Sale, and the Little Red Book of Selling are all great sales reads in my opinion. I know you may be thinking three Americans and a Brit don’t know what it’s like to sell in my market or in my country, but selling today is a global thing. If you don’t like these, look for the leading sales books in your own country and read one or two. The goal is to see how others sell and review your own process to see if you can improve it. I bet you’ll find at least one idea.

As for me, I've read my share, well over 50, and I enjoy hearing how different people approach the opportunity before them and make the move to closing business…or moving on to the next one.

Over the last few months I've been asked to speak more and more about the best sales methods. (Funny, when economies slow down people start looking at what's not working now—when they should be doing that when it's working too!) My short answer is that there is no "best" method. The one that works for you may not work for someone else. The one that works for your competition may not work for you. And so on.

In my analysis of many selling methods I have identified three drastically different approaches that can develop a different customer relationship and return on that relationship based not only on the general efforts made, but also the specific activities you choose to do (or don't do as you'll see).

The three methods or approaches one could lead with are as follows:

  1. Wait: If you use the wait approach to new business...and existing business too, you literally are waiting for business to show up. You may spend your time preparing for the work you will get or maybe you are busy working on work you already have. There's not much effort in this method...but there is often time hoping for more work, praying for more work, or spending time complaining that no work is coming in. Last time I checked, there are very few investments where some amount of up front work, effort, or capital is required before you can enjoy any return at all.
  2. Look: I believe this method is not only the most popular, but it has also worked for many up to this point. You know the core product or service you offer and you spend time going out and looking for companies who need what you have. This approach often leads to asking the potential customer, "Do you want to buy what I'm selling." Or asking an existing customer, “I know you bought some in the past, do you want to buy more today?” Some people are incredible at this method. The number of calls they make in a day, people they see, e-mails they send are all part of their ROI factor of "looking." They measure the effort by how many things they did to sell, rather than the return they got from their selling efforts. People who use this method would try to find people who need what is being sold. When people are buying this is a great method. But it’s not such a good method when people aren't buying.
  3. Create: This is often the least used method to lead with. But as of late, the few who do use it are enjoying deeper and more valuable relationships with particular customers. This method can deepen an already existing relationship or it can help you get the attention of someone you've never done business with. In this method you spend time thinking creatively about ways to help your customer. Perhaps it’s about helping them make money instead of just saving it, saving time in their business or making them look good to a new type of customer they are trying to go after. The difference is that you're not saying, "Do you want to buy what I'm selling," you're leading with a developed set of ideas you created to help that customer's business. The “create” approach can sound something like, “I’ve done the best I can to understand you, your business and your customer and I believe I have some ideas that can help you beyond cost savings alone.” It may take more time to understand the customer's business or their relationships with their customers but it's an easy way for you to differentiate yourself by putting the customer’s business in the middle of your efforts and showing them how to grow and go further in their business enabled by your ideas. It sets you apart from your competition AND the potential to have a long-term relationship is not based on price, quality or turn around time only. Individuals who lead with this method may not win all the business and it may take more time, but the practice in developing the ideas and selling them to others makes for a more knowledgeable, creative and experienced salesperson. I consider this a business development mindset.

I own a small education and consulting business and I’m the principal sales person in my organization. In my life I’ve spent some time “waiting” for sales to come in, I also recognize this approach has led to some of the most stressful times. I’m not much of a “looker.” I don’t call, e-mail or visit people and ask, “Do you want to buy some training?” I identify people from my day-to-day experiences who I believe are worth my time to be creative and see what I can do to help them as an individual and as a business. The “create” method has also gotten me in trouble too. I’ve often developed incredible ideas to help my customer but capturing them, putting a proposal together, developing the solution and delivering it all can be hard to do. But, I also recognize this method has pushed me to close some of the most profitable sales I have ever had.

Now is a great time to look at the way you lead your sales efforts. Take out a piece of paper and write down the answers to the following questions. You’ll find that the time you take to answer these questions could be the most valuable time you’ve taken today, this week, this month to grow yourself and your business:

  1. Do I have a sales method or a process I can explain to someone else? If not, why not? If so, write it down now!
  2. Is the sales method simple and repeatable? If not, why not? If it is, can I make it even simpler and more repeatable?
  3. In my sales approach do I use my existing knowledge, products and services to help my customer beyond cost savings alone? Why, why not? What if I did? How could that change my relationship with the customer?
  4. How would my potential customer feel if I explained my sales method to them? Would my existing customer feel any differently?
  5. Do I spend time evaluating other sales methods? Why, why not?
  6. How has my method changed in the last year? In the last three years? In the last ten years?
  7. What can I do to close the sale for more money using my existing business? And for more profits instead of revenue alone?
  8. What one product or service could I add to my existing business and close the sale for a higher price? How would my answer change if I considered a totally new customer base I don’t call on today?
  9. If I do nothing at all to modify the way I sell today, will it allow me to differentiate myself from my competition a year from now? Three years from now?
  10. If my competition took the time to answer these same questions could they win more business? Why, why not?

I know your busy doing something. But you did take the time to read this article and that already sets you apart from everyone who didn’t. You’re willing to see another way of doing things. If you took a little more time and answered the questions above you could have a more profitable future. I know it’s one I’m interested in and I bet your customers are interested in one too. Help them see it as part of your approach to them.

If you’d like to share your answers to the questions so I can learn more and share more with you and others, please send them to my e-mail. Thanks for helping me improve my approach. I hope my ideas helped you improve yours too!

Keep the learning going, pass it on! ~Peter