I’m still a relatively inexperienced salesman, as I’ve been selling machine tools for only two years. But I do believe I have the potential to be a decent one. I’m not afraid to talk to strangers, I think I’m a decent listener, and a lot of people appear to find me worth talking to.
At the Precision Machined Parts Association (PMPA) Management Update in Las Vegas in February, I had the opportunity to attend a lecture by Ron Karr, a famous sales expert and author who has been on the lecture circuit for 25 years. I was surprised by several things Karr told us, but overall I thought his philosophy made a lot of sense.
I wanted to take advantage of Karr’s expertise as much as I could, so during the lecture I volunteered to do a therapeutic roleplaying exercise in front of the 200 people present.
I went up on stage and Karr asked me to tell him about my business and show him my sales approach. I said that I sold multi-spindle screw machines to machine shops. Then I asked him what type of machines he ran.
He told me that I was “speaking from the head” rather than “speaking from the heart.” I tried again to give my pitch, with more “heart.” I said, “I want to help your business make parts faster and more easily, and help you make more money.” He again said I was still “too much from the head,” but slightly better.
I made several more attempts to speak from the heart as Karr coached me. He eventually instructed me to say something along the lines of “Hi, I’m Noah Graff. The reason I’m here is to share some strategies on how you can make parts more easily and make more money.” He also suggested I open a conversation with customers by asking, “What are the three biggest challenges your business is dealing with?” Karr claims that by asking a question like that it brings the conversation to a higher level, thus making the salesperson into more than just a vendor. I understood the concept behind that, but to me the opener came across as canned and unauthentic, thus ineffective in initiating a conversation. I pictured myself calling a machine shop out of the blue, getting connected to a manager on the shop floor, and giving that spiel right off the bat. I believe he would hang up on me within 15 seconds, and maybe yell at me for wasting his time.
If I knew the customer already, if we already had a rapport, I could see how such an approach could work. I’ve tried to work these types of questions into my sales calls in the last week and a half since the conference, but not as conversation openers. It’s hard to know at this point if it has had a positive impact.
Despite disliking Karr’s conversation openers, I thought some of his concepts were brilliant. He said that a salesperson should focus the conversation around issues brought up by a customer rather than the advantages of the product for sale. He said that only 10-20% of an interaction with a customer should involve explanation or demonstration of the product for sale. He said that humans have the tendency to feel that the more they talk, the more power they have, and that this belief is usually false. According to Karr, talking too much actually diminishes the power of the salesperson because the customer will not have a chance to tell the salesperson what they really need and will feel like his needs are being ignored.
I think the “heart” Karr wanted me to convey is a genuine desire to listen to a customer. If I show “heart” by talking less, I will listen more and sell more — that is, if I can get through the door.
Question: If a sales person called you and the first thing he said was, “What are the three biggest challenges your business is facing?” would you give him the time of day, or would you hang up?