Mastering the Customer Conversation
It’s hard to believe, but 30 years ago (this May) I was graduating from Miami University in beautiful Oxford, OH. After graduation, I had the fortunate opportunity at the age of 21 to enter the Pharmaceutical Industry as a territory manager. Have you ever received an opportunity where you felt the dichotomy of a tremendous blessing with the overwhelming fear of whether or not you can actually succeed? Well, that was me.
I remember going to training. In my new hire class we had nurses, pharmacists, seasoned pharmaceutical sales reps, and other team members with backgrounds in more science-related fields than I had. I also remember entering the training thinking that the only way that I could compete was to work harder than those around me by digging in and getting it done. Then it happened, we were hit with the avalanche of materials, processes, training, exams, and role-plays. It was at this point that I entered the “Pharmaceutical Rep Factory” – review disease backgrounders, clinical backgrounders, product modules, brand message training, objection handling, and then the ever torturous live training and role-play scenarios!
Every day in the mail, I would receive package after package. After weeks of studying, the next step was getting on a plane to fly into New Jersey, where I would spend three weeks learning more, practicing more, and yes, more ROLE PLAYS. What sales professional hasn’t been through the gauntlet of role plays? Almost three months into my training, the day came when I was finally certified to go out into the field and start my customer conversations. I had made it through the Parke-Davis scientific think tank. It was no joke. The training team made me into a knowledge machine and my highest level of knowledge was product value.
By all definitions, I should have been ready to go out into the world and sell with value-based features and benefits! Does this experience sound familiar to anyone else? Have you or are you being trained this way? If so, here is the question for today – how do you define value, and what do you do with it?
We hear it from our clients all the time; our team members value sell every day, yet the value selling isn’t shrinking the gap of eroding market share, longer sales cycles, and frequent discounting. Here is a harsh reality. Unless your customer is already buying from you or exceedingly motivated, you are losing opportunities based on two issues.
- Not putting the value statements in the appropriate order of the customer conversation.
- Not linking the value statements back to the buyers’ actual unique challenges or problems.
This may sound simple, but challenge yourself today. How many sales customer conversations do you have where you back the proverbial dump truck of knowledge onto your prospective buyer? By doing this, you miss one of the two critical steps listed above. In order to stand out above the rest, we, as professional communicators, must think differently about our customer conversations and where we place our value statements.
Here are some practical tips:
- Know your product or service value drivers better than anyone (the rep factory is important).
- Be subconsciously competent with this information. Nobody should know more than you.
- Once you have this level of knowledge and skill, you will be more apt to naturally connect these value statements to the unique challenges and problems your customers face.
- Place the value statements after you have created a connection, defined the buyers’ gap, and quantified that gap with your customer.
- Then, link the value statements back to the actual problem that was agreed upon.
Guess what more buyers will do? They will feel the urgency behind solving THEIR problem and will make faster buying decisions.
Mastering the Coaching Conversation
As coaches, we must be persistent with our team members that having excellent product knowledge is great, but it isn’t enough. Value comes from using value statements in the right order and with the proper linking back to our buyers’ unique challenges and problems. You can help your team members take this extra step in their customer conversations.
When you are observing customer conversations or having practice sessions with your team, you must actively listen for the transition from value statements to how these statements solve a problem for the customer. Your coaching feedback should reinforce the importance of value-based knowledge, but you must be listening for the link.
One suggestion is to take a marketing collateral piece that is filled with product or service value statements and ask a question on each bullet – does this value statement solve a problem that my customer cares about? If the answer is yes, then write down what it addresses and share it with your team. If the answer is no, then get on the phone with marketing ASAP!