Sell to me the way I want to purchase

I have had two purchasing experiences in the past few weeks that highlighted my frustration with most sales approaches.  The items being considered were very different, one smaller and the other much larger.

In one case, the sales person determined my habits and then tried to fit me into a specific product offering.  In the second, the sales person told me her life story and all of her preferences, but did not ask many questions about my needs or preferences.  In the second case, I received a data dump of all possible options without regard to my perceived needs.

So why do I bring this up for your consideration?   Too many people I meet in a sales environment are in such a hurry to spew their latest offerings that they fail to understand their customer’s desires.

Our firm, B2B CFO®, uses Ron Willingham’s Integrity Selling program to prepare our partners.  There is a story that Ron shares in his book, “Integrity Selling for the 21st Century”:

A homebuilder had been invited to meet with military families in Rapid City, South Dakota where several thousand new homes for Air Force personnel were planned.  He and his competitors were allowed to set up space in a hanger to meet with the incoming families.  His competitors set up fancy glossy displays showing their offerings.  This gentleman set up a card table with two chairs for the homebuyers.  “When people came up, I’d introduce myself and ask them to sit down.  I’d spend a few minutes getting acquainted.  I’d ask them their names, where they’d lived, how many children they had – questions like that.  As they talked, I’d write down the information on a pad.  I’d make notes of the children’s names, ages and gender.  I wouldn’t ask them what kind of home they wanted – I wouldn’t ask them direct questions like that.  I’d ask them indirect questions such as: How often do you entertain? How many people at a time? How many cars do you own? How often do you have overnight guests?  Then I’d ask them questions such as: What do you like most about your present home? What do you like least about it? Do you like a central entry hall? Do you like a U-shaped kitchen?” This homebuilder went on to tell, that when he felt he had enough information about their needs, “I’d reach into my briefcase and pull out the one plan that I felt would best suit their needs.”  He was very proud that, “out of the fifty or so homes I sold that week, everyone except two people bought the plan I showed them.”[1]

I wish that all your purchasing experiences could follow this simple technique.

So if you are responsible for training sales personnel, customer service representatives or field technicians, I urge you to become familiar with Ron Willingham’s approach to selling.  It is certainly the way most of us would like to buy.


[1] Integrity Selling in the 21st Century : how to sell the way people want to buy / written by Ron Willingham, published July 2003 by Currency Doubleday, pages 61-63.

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