Successful Sales: Uncovering the Real Needs By Joe Fox and Gerry Giorgio

By following the sequence and method of the sales processoutlined thus far, you have effectively sold yourself and earned the right toask your customers the ever more important questions. Your conversationalquestions have been able to steer the discussion in the direction of theimportant benefits you can provide. You have struggled to understand yourcustomer’s important needs, and your customer places a high degree ofimportance on the fact that you do understand these expressed needs.

Open questions with your customer should continue until youhave heard numerous specific needs you can meet. It is very important that youtake notes during the “Ask Great Questions” phase because your noteswill be critical in the “Presentation” phase. Taking good notes alsoserves as a good record of future needs, as well as reinforcing your sincereinterest in capturing what is important to your customer.

You are now at the point of the sales call where it is veryenticing to roll out your presentation based on the strong benefits that youhave developed. Resist the urge! Presenting your benefits too early mayactually harm the forward progress of the sale thus far.

As an example, let’s say you are very enthusiastic about thenew point-of-purchase signs for your 4-inch specialty annual program. Youpresent this to the customer without identifying the clear need. He states thathe has no ability to install this signage and asks what the reduced price iswithout the signs. Any chance for top margins has now been eliminated.

Verbalize Needs

It is important to have your customer specifically talkabout (actually verbalize) their needs. This allows for a clear understandingbetween you and the customer and allows you to reference these clearly statedneeds when you present your benefits. This is also the point in the processwhere you can put a spotlight on the customer’s needs by getting them to talkabout the disadvantages of not having the benefit that you can offer. Let’slook again at the above dead-end example.

The key benefit you have developed is an eye-catching,consumer-based tagging and sign program for your 4-inch specialty annuals. Youdeveloped the program with this specific retail customer in mind and expectedthat they would be very interested in having the program appear only in theirstores. The idea behind this exclusive program was that the retailer couldavoid price comparison-shopping at competitors because the program would not beavailable at any of their competitors.

You may ask the retail buyer questions such as:

* “Whatare your thoughts on plant promotional programs that both you and yourcompetitors carry?”

* “Whatare your options to attract consumers to your offering, of the same item, overyour competitors?”

* “Canyou describe your interest level in a well-packaged, visual program ofspecialty annuals that is available exclusively at your store?”

These questions allow you to clarify your customer’sspecific needs and to make these needs part of a memorable dialogue. Thisapproach also establishes the best possible situation for when you present yourprogram’s details and customer benefits.

I can recall a conversation with a grower who was dealingwith a home improvement store buyer. The discussion led to the store’s”grower cart” policy and approach. The grower was interested inmaking this high-volume sale; however, he was prepared to walk away from it ifhe was held to the same requirement as all other growers — drop the carts andretrieve them later. This grower had taken a detailed look at his costs andknew what the going price was on the item he was trying to sell. When he factoredin the true cost of lost and damaged carts, he could not make money on theorder.

The grower asked all the right questions about the currentpolicy to gain an understanding. During this description, the grower askedabout the “negative aspects” of the current policy. This gave thebuyer the chance to think about (more importantly, to talk about) the aspectsof the cart program that do not work well. The buyer reflected on the aspectsof the buildup of carts full of fresh product and trying to get thosepositioned for selling. He also recalled the situations where the empty cartsblocked delivery access areas and were generally cluttering an area with highvolume turns.

The outcome of this sales interaction was a complete changein cart policy, for all growers. The solutions presented by this grower were atrue benefit for the retailer, and it had a lasting impression on this buyer.

Don’t Forget

* Establishthe need using thoughtfully planned questions.

* Discussonly those needs you can address with the benefits of your products orprograms.

* Theneeds you want to uncover are those that differentiate you, your company andyour products.

* Uncovera number of needs during your questioning.

* Takenotes on what you hear regarding this customer’s specific needs.

* Havethe customer verbalize their needs.

* Attemptto have the customer discuss the negative situations of not having the benefitsthat you can provide.

You are now ready for an important and exciting part of thesales process — the presentation of your benefits that are directly in linewith the needs the customer identified.

Joe Fox and Gerry Giorgio

Joe Fox is marketing director and Gerry Giorgio is creative director with MasterTag, Montague, Mich. If you have questions about this article or about sales in general, they can be reached by phone at (231) 894-1712 or E-mail at [email protected]

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