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From Necessary Evil to Trusted Advisor

My daughter’s newish car broke down last week. She quickly decided to have it towed to a dealer because of their expertise. When she contacted the dealer closest to her, she heard: “The market is really backed up on parts right now, so it will take a lot longer than you expect.” and “We are so busy, we have no loaner cars for you, but just bring it in, and we'll take a look at it." She called another dealer quite a bit farther away and heard essentially the same thing; however, she also heard, "We know how frustrating this is for you and how hard it will be not to have a car, and I am so sorry we don't have any loaners at all for at least 2 weeks.” “We will work as quickly as we can on this and advocate for you and your warranty.”

That dealer 25 miles away has her car.

We’ve all been there. Having to buy something to fix a problem when we don’t really want to buy it.

Sales professionals deal with this all the time; their prospects and customer’s often need something they really would prefer not to have to buy. The term “necessary evil” is often used to describe these kinds of purchases. Good sales professionals turn this “have to” buy into “get to” buy experiences. How? They are skilled in the 3 characteristics required to build trust and influence buying decisions. Sadly, we have seen a huge decline in these 3 characteristics over the last 15 months.

Trust is needed before a purchase is made. (Hello, five-star reviews) But in B2B sales, it’s the sales professional who must build trust to make a sale. Pre-Covid, Ernst and Young, and Neil Rackham studied what customers look for in a seller they trust and how skilled the sellers were at it. Here’s what they found:

Unfortunately, while there was already room for improvement in these areas, many sales professionals have developed bad habits during this Covid era that further exasperate their performance in these areas. Here’s why:

1. Candor: What customers expect from their seller is a straightforward answer. Someone who is honest and open and helps them understand the true reality of the current situation. This was rated the highest and likely still is, however, after 15 months of virtual selling and rapidly changing market conditions, many sellers have developed a bad habit of "hiding from the customer." It's easier to let phone calls go to voicemail and default to communicating via email since they are not face-to-face anyway. Email, or worse, not communicating at all, is easier than having that tough conversation. They are not deliberately practicing how to deliver bad news and overcome objections. They are not used to or practiced in having to give the same person difficult news more than once, so they do what’s comfortable – they hide.

2. Competence: Customers trust sellers who are professional, experienced, and technically proficient in their role. After months of isolation, many sellers are quite rusty in this area. They have not been continuous learners; they have not leveraged the power of observation of others in their organization, and they have not collaborated with others to hone their craft. They’ve remained stagnant. And it shows to the customer. Too many sellers don’t know how to present virtually, they aren’t able to keep up with the changing market conditions and/or are not properly prepared for sales conversations. All of this gives buyers the impression that they are not competent.

3. Concern: Showing concern was already the lowest-rated characteristic when it came to building trust. Customers need to know that the seller is listening to them and is motivated to solve their problem. We call that being in the customer operating reality, and the way to get there is through actively listening. Active listening is a skill and needs to be practiced. Over the last several months, it's become really easy to NOT listen. Live meetings, where side-bar conversations and checking your emails would not only be rude, the behavior would not be tolerated, are now virtual meetings. Now, with video meetings, it's usually fine to put yourself on mute. It's a rare meeting where you know for sure the attendees are not texting, checking their email, or otherwise multi-tasking. It's also often fine to turn off the video. When it comes to communicating with others, if they've gotten into the habit of not being fully present, it will show up in customer conversations as not listening to or being concerned about them. Concern was the difference-maker in my daughter's decision for where to take her car. Don't underestimate the power of showing concern.

A lot of dialogue is taking place these days around required behavior changes since Covid and its difficulty presented to sales professionals. At Butler Street, we know how to overcome these challenges and adapt to the new environment. We have a system of reinforcing activities that enable your teams to build good habits and become Trusted Advisors instead of Necessary Evils. Contact us to get started.


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