Monday, October 12, 2009

Provocateur or bust! Be one or be one.

Well you may not be a bust but you might raise your family in Ozone Park, Queens. Hey, I love Queens. I grew up there. I'm just making a point, OK? Management has been sending salesmen out to sell with a Customer Needs Analysis sheet since I was "parking" a Spaldeen with my fist in the P.S. 205 playground. In other words, it's out of date. On a food shelf it might read "expired."

Here's how the CNA goes:

The appointment: "Mr. Jones, I'm Strom Lamone and I'd like to visit with you for a half hour to learn about your business. I AM NOT COMING TO SELL YOU ANYTHING."

The visit: After 100 such approaches, some one says 'yes' and there you are; Across the counter, doing your CNA with somewhere between 3 and 17 interruptions for your prospect's customers.

The Questions (right off the CNA sheet):
1. Is there a predictable selling cycle in your business?
2. What is the demographic of your primary target?
3. How about your secondary target?
4. What is your marketing area?
5. Who are your top competitors?
6. Do you advertise?
7. What media do you use?
8. What is your annual budget for advertising?
9.What do you try to accomplish with your advertising?
10. Gulp..How is it working?

11. If you could name your biggest success hurdle, what would it be?

The 1st Visit Close: Not to "sell" anything as promised, but rather to get a second visit (at which time you will sell your buns off).

"Well Mr. Jones, if I understand you correctly, your biggest probem is blah, blah, blah. I'd like to go back to the office and share your information with our in-house marketing genius, my sales manager, my general manager and Dr. Phil. If we come up with something that could fix your problem, you'd want to hear about it, right? OK then, let's pencil in next Tuesday or Wednesday, morning or afternoon, which is better for you (nice "choice close").

So--Does any of this ring a bell?

Can anyone explain to me the rationale for calling this a consultative sales process? This is an idiotic sales process, immediately setting up the only question this line of questioning evokes from a customer, if he asks one at all--"Very interesting Mr. Lamone. What's the deal of the day?"

Let me suggest a more productive line of questioning;

1. When did you open for business?
2. Has the competitive landscape changed over that period of time?
3. Which of those that compete with you has the strongest brand image?
4. How does the business look side by side with your original business plan?
5. Has the consumer need or want for the type of product or service you offered grown or decreased?
6. How do you know?
7. Is your sales volume growing at an acceptable pace?
8. Why? Why not?
9. What's your brand perception?
10. How do you know?
11. What's the public view of your customer service?
12. How do you know?
13. What is your strongest calling card for your target consumer?
14. How do you know?

I could go on and on with this list...and so can you. And so you should, and do I. The only thing I care about when visiting with prospects is making it clear that I can help them. And I do that by showing a sincere and intense interest in them; their successes and failures. And I don't run out of questions until they start developing their own list. That's because until they start questioning everything about their challenges, they will never meet them. And my job is to provoke them to think, and worry and wonder. And I make it clear that I will be right at their side as they go through that uncomfortable, painful but ultimately rewarding process.

And they will insist that I share the fruits of our labor.

Provocateur: A person who provokes problems; causes dissention and...exceeds their revenue goals month after month and year after year.


  1. One thing that is too often overlooked is that it is ESSENTIAL to do some homework -- in the BtoB world of trade magazine publishing ad sales we called this "Tradework" -- so you can at least look smart, prepared, and respectful enough of the person and their business that you took the time to do it. It means that before you meet you learn as much as possible about the client's presence in the market. The competitors, the brands, the perceptions of its customers. Even if you are sharing information they already know (which is in fact likely), they'll love that you did it. When I was starting out, before calling on a consumer brand to sell trade advertising in Chain Store Age, I used to take pictures of the company's products on store shelves. Like showing pictures of their own kids, they were in rapt attention and I earned instant credibility. I had permission to be a provocateur!

  2. So, Bob if I hear you correctly, walking in the door with a POwerpoint loaded full of my (or my products) capabilities isn't going to get me much. I tend to agree.

    My tendency is to walk in and show the prospective customer or client what needs help and what needs to be changed and some ideas for making that happen. I do that at the risk of "provocatating" a negative reaction from those who might see the approach as criticism rather than help.

    Sometimes the approach works, sometimes it just pisses people off. My question is if I don't get the meeting by promising nothing but "consultation", how do I approach getting the meeting in the first place, without which I don't even have the opportunity to be a provacateur?

  3. Bruce,

    You are quite right not to whip out your ppt features/benefits presentation on your first visit to Mr. Prospect. That would not be very different than announcing after the handshake, “Great to meet you. Let’s spend the next hour talking all about me.”

    But, coming into the fist meeting with a recitation of what Mr. Prospect is doing wrong and what changes you recommend to fix it is even more egregious. “Let’s see, you googled me and my company, visited my web site, got an understanding of what it is I offer, and are now prepared to tell me how to get on track. Listen; have a wonderful day, OK? Clemenza will show you to the door.”

    But before we talk about the meeting, let’s get it.

    "Mr. Prospect, I’m Hermann Timmer from the Blah Blah Blah Company. I’ve become interested in your company and believe that I can help you. May we schedule an hour together?" OBJECTION-OBJECTION-OBJECTION.

    "Mr. Prospect, while I’m asking you for an hour, I’ll take all the risk. The second you find your time with me misspent, let me know, and I am out the door. Your risk is limited to the time it takes to shake hands. I do think I can help you. OK?"

    Now will they all say “yes?” No. But I promise that if you spend Friday making the calls, you’ll be late for dinner every night next week.

    Once there, your job is to show him through your line of questioning that neither he nor you know just yet how to better align his progress with his dreams. But struggling together you’ll find the answer(s). And that’s your commitment.

    And that’s what a great salesman/consultant does…and how he behaves.

    Prov o cateur (sorry, Bruce). To provoke, create discord…upset the apple cart…all in the name of growth and profit.