Editor’s Note: In the following blogs, author and speaker Dave Kahle provides a handful of situations reps can walk through to better understand of the principles and processes you’ll need in order to develop effective account strategies.
What about the prospect that you just can’t get any where with? They won’t talk. They just won’t give you any information. You don’t know exactly what’s going on. You don’t know because the account doesn’t talk much. What do you do?
This is the most difficult of all situations to work with. You must create some opportunity in this account. If you don’t, nothing is going to happen. You can’t sell effectively in an account that will not talk with you.
You must get past that. You have to have information. You must understand and learn about your prospect. The sales process is dependent on that. Until you get them talking, until you uncover some opportunity, until you get some information, you’re going to be stymied.
There are a couple of things that you can do to get a non-communicative customer talking. One is to tell stories about other people. I don’t mean gossip. Rather, tell success stories. Tell stories about other accounts that you believe are like this one. Tell stories about their needs and their applications and what they’ve done with some of the product categories that you sell. Then ask them, “Are you like that? Does any of that relate to you? Does any of that make sense to you?” You tell a story about someone else and then ask the customer or the prospect if they are like the person in this story.
Another way is to use open-ended questions. An open-ended question is a question for which there is no right or wrong, and one in which the customer must talk a bit and explain. For example, you could say, “Tell me about…” Use the words “tell me” and then fill in the blanks. Every time you use the words “tell me,” you’re asking an open-ended question that prompts the cus-tomer to speak a lot.
Another tactic is to verbally present them a list of items and ask them to respond to each list. Ask, “Do you have any needs for this? Do you use any of that? What’s your position in regards to this?” You methodically work down through your list, expecting to hear yes or no answers. And, as they give you those yes or no answers, you take notes and gain something of an understanding of this account.
Another strategy is to methodically present all of your most powerful products. Take one in at a time, present that one and ask for their reaction, their response. “Do you use anything like this? Does this make any sense to you?” You let them react to your presentation.
All of those are different tactics. Which works for which prospect? I don’t know. You must work that out.
In every case you must get information from the account before you can do anything in that account. You must figure out a way to get a non-communicative customer or prospect talking and sharing information with you. With no information you cannot go any further. Information and conversation with your customer is the commodity that you work with as a professional salesperson.
In both of these last two situations; in the account that’s in the hands of the competitor and the account that won’t communicate with you, you need to objectively assess the potential of the account. In other words, is it worth putting a lot of time and effort in even if you gain all the business? It may be that your time is better spent elsewhere. It may be that their position is so hardened that it would take you three or four years to influence them to change that position. It may be that the potential payback isn’t worth it.
It may be that it is worth it, but that’s a question you need to ask about these last two kinds of situations. Is it worth it? Assess the potential. If you decide that it is worth it, then you do need to be persistent and understand that at eventually something will change.
I remember being very frustrated with one of my accounts that was a non-communicative customer in the hands of a competitor. I just couldn’t get anywhere in that account. I expressed my frustrations to my manager. He gave me some very wise advice. He said, “Remember, the only thing that you can count on is that something will change. You don’t know what and you don’t know when but you know that it will, and your job is to position yourself to be the person they look to when things change.”
He was right. In this particular case, the competitive salesperson was promoted and moved out of the territory. A new salesperson took over, and he just didn’t have the same relationship or personality that the first one did. The customer began looking for other options, and I was there. I began to grow the business when that change happened. Sometimes just being persistent when the potential is worth it will be the most effective strategy.
Often too, the more difficult the account is at first, the greater is the potential later on. You’ve heard the saying that the bigger they are, the harder they fall. It’s been my experience that the obverse of that is true also. Often the harder they fall; the bigger they are once they fall. Let me give you an example of what I mean by that. When I was selling hospital supplies, I visited a medium-sized hospital for the first time. The materials manager saw me. I did my presentation — who we are, what we did, and why they should care. He looked at me after I was done and he said, “Young man, we don’t know much about your company at this point, but what we do know we don’t like. Secondly, we have too many suppliers. We don’t need another one. We’re trying to rid ourselves of some of the suppliers we have. So I’d suggest you go away and not come back.”
I thought, “OK. This is going to be a challenge.”
I opted for one of the strategies that I discussed here. I visited the account again, about six weeks later. I was able to see the same individual again. This time, I brought in my most powerful product, the product that everybody purchased from us because it was such a great value. It was an item called suction tubing. Suction tubing in a hospital is a staple item that is used throughout the hospital, in almost every department. Hospitals cannot function without it.
We had an arrangement with the largest manufacturer in the world and we had great prices and a good range of different packages and sizes. Our line really was a great value. So, I came back in with my ace product, and presented our suction tubing program. He looked at me and said, “We don’t use any.” When he said that, we were sitting in his office in the basement and I looked out the open door to his office out into the hallway and there, just outside the door, was a cart. On the cart was suction tubing. I could see it. He knew I could see it. He was lying, I knew he was lying and he knew that I knew that he was lying.
I thought, “Hmmm. This is going to be difficult.” What he was doing was protecting the relationship he had with his vendor — my competitor. This was one of these accounts that was in the hands of a competitor and was not going to give me much conversation because they were protecting that relationship.
I eventually found someone else in the account that I could work with – someone who was a bit more open-minded. I persistently presented my products until an opportunity opened up. The primary vendor, my competitor, had a backorder on a product. We were able to supply it because we were positioned as, “Let us be your backup.” We were. We came through, and that led to an opportunity, which led to an opportunity, which led to an opportunity.
Eventually, three years later, that particular hospital was my best account. Now they were protecting me when I was on the inside, just as they were protecting my competitor when I was on the outside. In some cases, when the account is large enough or the potential is great enough, it’s worth hanging in there and being persistent.
Dave Kahle has trained tens of thousands of B2B salespeople, sales managers and business owners to be more effective in the 21st Century economy. He’s authored nine books, and presented in 47 states and seven countries. To access Dave’s training, insights and tools online, visit The Sales Resource Center. Visit www.davekahle.com to check out a seminar near you