Everybody knows that effective selling requires attentive listening. But in order to listen, sales reps must get customers and prospects talking.
John Warrillow and the team at Warrillow & Co. believe they’ve discovered the query to crack open productive dialogue with small businesses (<100 employees). Warrillow & Co. specializes in helping big companies (e.g., American Express, Staples, Xerox) have the insights and best practices necessary to market and sell effectively to smaller ones.
Guess which of the following is the penultimate sales question:
a) What’s your budget?
b) What will it take for you to say “yes” today?
c) Tell me a little bit about your business?
d) How do you differentiate from the competition?
e) What do you value most in your supplier relationships?
If you guessed “d,” give yourself an “A” for acumen. Here’s why, and why big companies often struggle to get it right.
“What we’ve found in speaking with small business owners is that they expect sales reps to demonstrate business acumen when they call on them,” Warrillow said. “One of the big challenges large, enterprise companies face is that they typically take their most junior, greenest sales reps and task them with calling on small businesses. And when you think about the hierarchical structure of small business, the owner is at the top of the chart.
“Contrast that with charging your most senior sales people to call on, what, maybe a manager level in a Fortune 500 company. Yet you’ve got your 22 year old, right out of school, calling on a jaded, 58-year-old manufacturing CEO who has seen everything — 500 times. It’s a complete mismatch.”
Acumen = Training and Communication
Because big organizations are unlikely to reassign top sellers to smaller accounts, Warrillow says the solution to this inherent misalignment lies in training and communciation — doing a better job of empowering reps with acumen. “The confidence and the savvy to go toe to toe with the business owner,” he said. “Without it, business owners will just spit them out, very quickly.”
How does asking the “best” question look and sound? Warrillow offers this example: “You run a bike shop in Minneapolis, Greg Lemond country. There must be another nine or 10 bike shops in Minneapolis. How do you differentiate? What makes you special? That demonstrates to the small business owner that the person asking the question has a degree of business maturity.”
Now, here’s the real power behind the “what makes you different?” question:
It positions the sales rep to demonstrate how her product
or his service can support, even sharpen, the customer’s point of differentiation.
“So if the bike shop dealer says, ‘What makes us special is we let our customers pay in installments,’ you can see how a bank might play a role in helping finance that type of offering. If the sales person is able to glom on to what makes them special, and even enhance that value proposition, that’s going to be a great conversation.”
Which, come to think of it, means the best small-business sales question isn’t really so small. It just might be the key to getting any customer or prospect, no matter their size, engaged in win-win dialogue.
NOTE: If small businesses are a target for your business, get to know Warrillow & Co. Among other things, they conduct research, sponsor knowledge-sharing summits and publish a weekly newsletter.