Bells & Whistles vs Need, Pain & Interest

I got a call yesterday from a young inside sales rep who works for a company that specializes in automated tools to assist the inside sales process. The call resulted in one of those rare win-win-win outcomes, although he might not see it quite that way. Let me explain.

He introduced himself by saying something about some vague connection between me and the CEO of his company, implying that somehow he and I had spoken or communicated or knew one another. I don’t think so.

More likely, he was responding to my click on a broadcast email I had received earlier in the day from his company inviting me to an all day web conference on the topic of inside sales. Although I had an interest in the topic, my schedule precluded my attending, so I was just poking around to see what I might have missed.

Other than raising my suspicion with his introduction, the young man was otherwise quite articulate and seemingly knowledgeable about his company’s product line. He explained that he had done some research on our company and had determined that they could help us because their products focused on assisting companies with inside sales and lead generation missions by providing automation tools to enhance productivity.

He then asked if we had a CRM (I suppose if I said we didn’t, he’d offer to sell me some very large index card cabinets). I explained we ran a very robust, proprietary application on an Oracle platform that basically ran our entire business as well as providing ourselves and our clients with web-based CRM capabilities.

Without skipping a beat, he launched into a discourse about some of their products and how they could help us do everything short of creating world peace and climate control. Very impressive promises, indeed.

What he forgot to do was to earn my trust. He never asked me about how we use our CRM, what were its capabilities and perceived shortcomings, or what, if anything, we’d love to have that we didn’t already have. What made him think we needed his magic tools?

So he never really earned the right to move to the next level of relationship building. He turned the conversation on a dime from me and us, to him and them, without giving me a chance to tell him more about what we do or might need.

When I told him that the promised bells and whistles had strained my sense of credibility, he offered to connect me with a subject matter expert who would explain how it worked and why they could do what he promised they could do.

Suffice it to say that he had lost me.

Faced with his offer, I was left with two options. I could tell him I wasn’t interested and hang up, or I could ask for him to email me some information so I could think about it more before wasting my time and that of his subject matter expert. After a little push back, that’s what he did.

The material he sent was basically a link to a video presentation by a sales manager about their Salesforce.com solution. It was nicely done. However, because our application also integrates with Salesforce.com, the presentation had little value. And although there were some slick features included, most of these are already have been embedded in our application for many years.

The real win for me was in getting an idea from their presentation about how we might present calling information in our application that might make it more useful. Neat, easy to do, and a contribution that made my time on the call worthwhile for us.

But at the outset I promised that it was a win-win-win outcome. Where are the other two wins? Here they are.

The win for him was the fact that I was not, and would likely never be, a qualified prospect for his company’s Salesforce.com tools. Had I agreed to speak with a subject matter expert, he would have recorded this as a positive outcome in his records when, in fact, it wasn’t. A false positive is not a real positive.

The subject matter expert also got a win -- by saving his own time and not making a presentation to an unqualified prospect without any potential whatsoever to make a purchase. By saying no to the invitation to meet I had enhanced his sales productivity.

So that was the win-win-win outcome I promised, but what is the real takeaway here?

If you are going to initiate a meaningful relationship with a prospect, new or otherwise, you need to do more than satisfy yourself that they are a suspect. You need to earn their trust by probing to understand their needs, challenges, interests and aspirations. What keeps them up at night?

Bells and whistles are interesting to present, but they are all about you. And prospects have no reason to care at all about you. Qualifying a prospect requires an in-depth understanding of them, because it’s always all about them (as it should be). You don’t earn the right to speak about yourself until they have finished speaking about themselves and you have something to offer that will help them meet their needs, achieve their goals, resolve their challenges, or sleep better at night.

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