Turn around your sales conversation with a prospect by becoming a student instead of a teacher. Ask for 10 minutes of your customer's time to gather information about their company that can help you better answer their questions.

Jessica Davis

September 30, 2013

3 Min Read
Adjust Your Sales Tactics for the Customer Who Knows It All

As recently pointed out by IT and Channel expert Tiffani Bova (principal analyst at Gartner), the firehose of information available on the internet has disrupted the IT sales process. Customers have most likely done their research before you ever get a chance to talk to them.

Bova offers advice on how to evolve sales processes and M. Jeffrey Hoffman, founder and president of M.J. Hoffman & Associates, a Boston-based sales training and consulting firm recently weighed in with his own set of recommendations. In an Inc. Magazine blog, Hoffman recommended switching from a teacher role to a student role.

He writes:

When I go out on calls these days, I typically hear something like this: “Before you get started, I have a few questions. I know what you do, and I completely understand your offering. But you should know that I just spoke with one of your competitors, and they are significantly cheaper than you. Plus, there are several features that we want, but according to what I have read on your website, these features aren’t available with your product.”

And why wouldn’t they say this? Buyers today have access to a seemingly endless supply of information. That enables them to form opinions about us long before we even meet. The days of the salesperson being the sole source of product information are probably gone forever.

This shift means that sales reps need to also change their tactics by becoming students rather than teachers. Your prospect has already gathered information from multiple sources. So Hoffman recommends turning the conversation around by asking the prospect for information about his or her business, his or her organization, and how the business and organization would use the particular product you are selling.

And here’s a really important component. The sales rep should say that this will only take about 10 minutes, and once that time is over he or she will be in a better position to intelligently answer the prospect’s questions. “Do you have 10 minutes right now?” the sales rep should ask.

Hoffman says this set up accomplishes three things:

  1. It slows everyone down from racing into the weeds too soon.

  2. It shifts the focus, putting the prospect into the roll of teacher rather than interviewer.

  3. It presents the customer with a definite finish line — just 10 minutes or so of questions.

You can use this 10 minutes to explore how your prospect views the marketplace and his company’s role in it, learn about your prospects career and choices, let him brag about his company and explain why his company makes certain decisions.

This lets you figure out how much decision-making authority this person has. It also tells you whether you should be selling to the customer’s “pain” (how your product can solve a problem) or to its “pleasure” (how it can  take the customer to the next level), Hoffman explains.

And keep this final tip in mind: While customers have access to ever more information, they have less time to process it all. Stay true to your 10 minute promise and keep the trust intact.

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About the Author(s)

Jessica Davis

Jessica Davis is the former Content Director for MSPmentor. She spent her career covering the intersection of business and technology.  She's also served as Editor in Chief at Channel Insider and held senior editorial roles at InfoWorld and Electronic News.

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