Given today's stagnant economy, the function of business development for companies has turned into a fight for market share regardless of the industry. For the front-line sales professional, this new reality translates into more people going after fewer opportunities, requiring each to bring his or her best game to the battle. Many make the common mistake of thinking that their raw talent and high energy are enough to prospect, qualify and close new business. They believe that selling is a game of numbers and ratios from which a successful outcome is the result of putting more leads into the top of the funnel. Perhaps once true, these days a real competitive advantage requires a thoughtful and methodical approach, which is exactly what Thomas Freese unveils in his latest book "Sell Yourself First: The Most Critical Element in Every Sales Effort."
With hundreds of self-help books aimed at the professional salesperson, Mr. Freese's challenge to introduce something novel and insightful is no small task. He has, however, an established career as a professional salesman and sales trainer, so I was eager to learn if he had cracked the code for opening more doors and closing more deals.
Mr. Freese is vocal about many of the quick-fix methods championed by similar books, suggesting the best place for them is the trash can. He challenges one of the more traditional sales approaches, remarking that espousing the features and benefits of a product or service is no longer a material advantage in today's competitive marketplace. He also takes aim at open-ended probative questioning and solution-selling, stating these techniques are no longer effective with a savvy decision-maker.
As the title of the book implies, Mr. Freese asserts the first step in the sales process is to establish personal credibility by focusing on each prospect's individual business problem and accepting it as your own. He refers to that process as PAS, (Problem, Alternatives, Solutions). Many in the professional services industry may recognize this problem-first process under a different name, "consultative selling." In the book, Mr. Freese shows how the process is used to build credibility through the insightful questioning and listening of the salesperson.
He acknowledges that most buyers today have a low tolerance for uninformed, inquisitive salespeople and are time-pressed and guarded with their information. Given this, how can a salesperson engage the buyer in a PAS conversation? The answer, I believe, is revealed on P. 123: "For me, the difference between success and failure often boils down to a simple formula, starting with putting in the necessary time and effort to give yourself an unfair advantage."
Get to know what drives your customer's business and the challenges they face. Be viewed as a potential adviser, not a potential vendor. Nothing builds personal credibility quicker than demonstrating to the buyer that you have invested your time to understand their specific business issues. And the opposite is also true. I've personally witnessed seasoned sales professionals use their first meeting with the prospect as a "discovery" meeting, having done little or no prior research. Not only does this waste everyone's time, it conveys to the prospect that the salesperson has little respect for the buyer's time and is not genuinely interested in helping solve their business challenge.
Mr. Freese dedicates the remaining chapters of the book to sharing his own approaches for managing the conversation dynamic. One chapter which I found to be a highlight of the book focuses on the prospecting stage of business development. Mr. Freese suggests targeting individual prospects with personalized phone calls, leading with a business problem to stir the buyer's curiosity. This, of course, requires homework on the part of the salesperson, but Mr. Freese suggests that incorporating a statement that piques the buyer's curiosity is also an early predictor of qualifying leads. "If a prospect is not the least bit curious about what you can do for them, then you probably won't succeed in getting their time and attention." To this end, the author provides some examples that use curiosity-led messaging as the basis for personalized sales call openers.
"Sell Yourself First" offers a solid, common-sense approach to the selling process for the salesperson in search of a better approach. And while the experienced salesperson may find it a bit light on truly thought-provoking content, it is a good resource for anyone just beginning a professional selling career.