Despite the evidence to the contrary, many sales people and businesses see multiple options presented to prospects as being “good” or the “right” thing, for the prospect, and by extension themselves. Many business owners tell me that they stock or offer a wide range of products or services to ensure that they can meet the demands of all comments. Some of this is based on the assumption that the buyer actually knows what they want. This fatal sales character flaw is shared by many sales people, especially from the consultative or relationship school. These sales people see their role more client therapists than revenue generators.
You can sort of understand the small business owners, clients come in asking for something they currently don’t have. They have two choices, take the time and effort to understand the buyer’s objective, and then sell them on an equally valid alternative they do have. Or, they squeeze some things over on the second shelf, and order a dozen of what the prospect asked for, because “If this guy wants it, so will others, best to be prepared when the next buyer asks for it.” A big if.
While one can’t blame small business owners for falling into the trap of endless choices, it should be different with sales people. Choice is a bad drug, once you are addicted, it takes a lot to kick this habit that’s killing sales, and threatening capitalism as we know it. Yet sales people consume and dispense choice disregarding the impact on their success.
Part of the challenge is people see the role of a sales professional. Broadly speaking there are those “consultative” types, “the customer is always right” types who for the sake of “relationship” will subordinate their success and that of their employers.
Consistently successful sales professionals see their role a little differently, they see themselves as a Subject Matter Expert, (SME). Further, their expertise is not product related, but related to helping the prospect achieve their objectives. Focusing on objectives, business impacts and outcomes, frees one up from worrying about product/service, to outcomes. From a business standpoint it really is about the end, not the means. Focusing on the “end”, the outcomes and impacts, narrows the discussion, and creates focus.
Consultative sellers will present proposals with multiple options, SME’s offer up the right choice based on what the “end” the prospect is trying to achieve. With the former you have to explain each option, the pros and cons of each, the whole exercise begins to look like a spaghetti tossing contest. While many of these sellers take great pride in expounding on each option, demonstrating their rich product knowledge. Here is what the prospect is hearing, “I haven’t got a clue what you are looking for Mr. Buyer, but I gotta make a sale here or my ass is fried; so imagonna put three options in front of you, hope you know what you want, hope I can sell you the middle one, but I’ll settle for the lowest option too, any actually”.
Be the expert, understand what they are trying to achieve, not what they want to buy or you want to sell. No matter what you are selling commodity or rocket ships, limiting choice will help you understand and sell better. In high end products, offering one choice, even when not on the mark, will drive discussion, discovery and insight, and establish you as an expert in the process. Options will give the client the impression you have taken it as far as you can, based on their input, and now they are on their own to make the decision. Risky business.
With commodities, I’ll share a story. I was working with client in a competitive market, there were a lot of choices, vendors, product, bulk, etc. My client’s team would always showcase three offerings, most prospects loved the middle choice, right balance of price/feature. But in the end he sold considerably more of the lowest price product, even among those who loved the middle feature; (just read the “good enough” segment of CEB’s Challenger Customer). I suggested that they drop the lowest option, and just present two, making what was the middle choice now the lowest of the two. His volumes did not go down, but almost all the sales were of the new low, prior middle priced offering.
By limiting choice, he increased outcomes for both his buyers and his company.