If You Sell Anything, Pay Attention

Thoughts on Excellence Free E-Newsletter Series
Volume 9, Issue No. 3
June, 2010

By Dan Coughlin

Selling is convincing another person that the value you have to offer is worth the value you are asking in return.

That’s it. It’s no more complicated than that.

Every Sale is a Value- and Values-Based Interaction

There is no such thing as a transaction. In the history of business no customer has ever bought a product or service so that a company could have another transaction. Every sale in every industry is a value- and values-based interaction. Every potential customer is asking two questions:

  1. What will I receive for my investment? (Value)
  2. How will I be treated before, during, and after the sale? (Values)

The heart of selling is figuring out the value the customer wants or needs and determining how that person wants or needs to be treated before, during, and after the sale in order for him or her to consider this to be an outstanding interaction, one that is worthy of the investment he or she will be making.

The Three Critical Words in Selling: Observe Life Carefully.

Selling is not a script any more than building a relationship is a set of pick-up lines. Great sales people don’t trick, manipulate, or cajole people into making a purchase. Neither do they strong-arm, frighten, or intimidate people into making a decision. Instead all great sales people do one thing extremely well: observe life carefully.

By observing other people they begin to understand the value and the values their desired customers want and need. One of my favorite quotes is from David Ogilvy in his book, Confessions of an Advertising Man. He wrote, ‘Creative people are especially observant, and they value accurate observation (telling themselves the truth) more than other people do.’

Great salespeople tell themselves the truth about the value and values that other people truly want or need. Mediocre and poor salespeople tell themselves what they want to believe about other people. One time an acquaintance asked me to join a country club. I said, ‘I don’t play golf and I travel quite a lot. When I’m home I like to be with my family.’ He tried to convince me why I needed to join his country club. Finally he admitted that he was the chairperson for new memberships and he needed to ‘sell’ five new memberships to hit his goal. Considering that I could care less about his goal never seemed to occur to him.

Stand Back and Watch People

Remember that insight comes from sight. One of the most effective ways to understand your desired customers is to go watch them in action.

If you run a restaurant or retail store, take a seat about fifteen feet from where your customers get greeted for the first time. Observe what the interaction is like. My consulting experience in the restaurant and hospitality industries has taught me that the first two seconds are critical to the success of the long-term customer relationship. If the customer is greeted with a relaxed smile, good solid eye contact, and a friendly greeting, the odds of that customer experience going well are dramatically improved. In these scenarios the customer tends to be much more patient if something goes wrong later with the order or the meal. On the other hand, if the employee grunts at the customer instead of saying hello, does not make eye contact, and does not smile or relax with the customer, then the customer tends to be much less patient if something goes wrong later with the meal or the order.

Recently I spent four months studying Terry Michler to see what insights I could gain from him on improving the business performance of a group. It turns out I learned a lot from him. Terry Michler has won more soccer games than any coach in the history of the U.S. at the high school, college, or professional level. As the head soccer coach at CBC High School for 39 years, he has won over 800 games and six state championships. Terry Michler is not a screamer. He doesn’t yell out instructions to the field. Instead he spends the entire game scanning the field and looking for details that most people never see. He is looking for the theme of the game as opposed to the plot. He then shares his observations with his players at half-time and after the game. In the end, he’s trying to ‘sell’ his players on a specific style of play that he calls ‘attacking ball possession soccer.’

In my book, Find a Way to Win: Management Insights from Terry Michler, America’s All-Time Winningest Soccer Coach, I asked him why selling this style of play to his players is so important in terms of winning.

He said, ‘Confidence and control!!! When you can play in such a way that the other team struggles to keep up, you have a distinct advantage. Soccer is a game determined by your ability to use the ball. Ball possession and attacking with ball possession give you that advantage. Some teams practice possession soccer, but they don’t play attacking ball possession soccer. In soccer, ball possession is NEVER an end product. It is the MEANS to the end. As the Dutch would say, the key is ball possession in order to build a controlled attack that leads to goals. Our focus is not merely on ball possession for the sake of ball possession. That does NOT lead to goals.’

Step back and carefully watch your customers and desired customers. See what you can learn from them about what they truly want and need in order to achieve their desired outcomes.

What is Obvious to You May Not Be Obvious to Your Customer

Last year I coached a seven-year-old indoor boys soccer team. Before the first game I brought all of the boys together. I said, ‘Tom, you play goalie. Joe, you play right defender. Matt, you play left defender. Ben, you play center midfield. Adam, you play right forward. Nathan, you play left forward. Ok, here we go.’

The boys ran out on to the field. Then Joe came running back to me. He said, ‘Coach Dan, I’m in kindergarten, and we haven’t covered our right from our left yet. Can you show me where you want me to play?’

What is obvious to you may not be obvious to your customer. Look at what you are saying from his or her perspective. See if it makes sense to the customer. If it’s not easy and intuitive for your customer, he or she may very well move on to your competitor.

Consider Customers from Multiple Perspectives

When you observe customers and desired customers, there is a lot to look for. Here are three questions to consider as you watch them. Pay attention to the details that your customers are communicating to you.

What decision-making personality does the potential customer primarily have while considering your product or service?

Does the person want to make a quick decision and move on? (Quick decision-maker) Does the person want to feel good about you and the product or service you are selling? (Emotional decision-maker) Does the person want to see how this purchase logically fits into his or her life? (Logical decision-maker) Does this person want to determine that making this decision is the right thing to do? (Conscientious decision-maker) Understanding the person’s personality needs in the particular situation where he or she is thinking about buying from you is a very important part of observing. Listen and watch for clues that might indicate the individual’s personality needs at that moment. Don’t assume that every customer has the same decision-making personality needs or that one type of personality is better than another or that a person will always have the same personality needs in every situation.

What is the person’s economic frame of mind?

Is the person in a penny-pinching mood or an extravagant state of mind? In 2006 some people wanted to spend an extraordinary amount of money for a new home and in 2010 the same people are searching for homes at incredibly low prices. As you sell, it’s important to understand where people are at in terms of their desire to spend money. Emphasizing the luxurious feel of a new watch won’t work when the desired customer is consumed with saving every dollar. Emphasizing frugality when the person wants to feel like he or she is splurging on a special occasion won’t go over well either.

People aren’t rushing to buy the new iPad because it’s the cheapest e-book reader around. They want to feel that they are treating themselves to the latest and greatest piece of technology.

Is it a want or a need?

Does the person want your product or service or need to have your product or service? The more you understand your desired customers, the better your chances are of seeing what they truly need. Once you see why they need your product or service, you will be in a much better position to convince them that the value you have to offer is worth the value you will be asking for from them.

Over time I’ve come to understand that an iPhone is a ‘need to have item’ and not a ‘want to have item.’ Somehow Apple has observed me for a number of years. They know that I’m not really in my office every day. My ‘office’ is on the road in hotels and airports and conference centers and cars. Consequently I need everything from my office with me. Essentially I need the internet, e-mail, mapquest, a way to take notes, a way to record my ideas, photos of my family, and some good music. So now I carry my entire office in my pocket. They understood me by observing thousands and thousands of people like me. They didn’t run a focus group. They observed life carefully and created what people needed.

Selling in Multiple Industries

In the past month I’ve given keynote speeches for four extraordinary companies in four different industries. Rockwell Collins is a world leader in technology for airplane cockpits, Essilor is the world’s leading provider of eyeglass lenses, Kiewit is one of the nation’s largest construction companies, and Midwest Litigation Services provides court reporters for a wide array of lawyers. Four totally different companies in four completely different industries. Yet they are leaders in their field because they each work to understand what their desired customers truly need.

I studied each company in-depth before speaking to them, and I came to realize that each of them does a remarkably good job of observing their desired customers and then creating solutions that meet their needs. Whether you want to improve sales as an organization or as an individual salesperson, the first and most important step is to observe life carefully. Determine what your desired customers want and need. Then clearly explain why the value you have to offer is worth the value you are asking in return and demonstrate the values they want to interact with.

Republishing Articles

My newsletters, Thoughts on Excellence, have been republished in approximately 40 trade magazines, on-line publications, and internal publications for businesses, universities, and not-for-profit organizations over the past 20+ years. If you would like to republish all or part of my monthly articles, please send me an e-mail at dan@thecoughlincompany.com with the name of the article you want in the subject heading. I will send you the article in a word document.

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