My first experience as a sales trainer and coach was with a privately held energy company with nearly 400 employees. I was so excited to have the opportunity to work with up-and-coming sales representatives to help them improve sales while also enjoying their work more.
I was a little disappointed when I discovered that the first question everyone seemed to ask me was, "What's the secret to closing more sales?"
Over the years, I've noticed that this has continued to be the most popular question with every group I've worked with. So many people believe that there must be some simple secret to getting a potential customer to, "Yes." They hope that if they just changed one thing about how they approach the closing process, they will close significantly more often.
Fortunately, there is one simple thing we can do to close significantly more sales: Forget about closing.
In fact, we should forget about trying to make a sale altogether and make it our top priority to be a servant.
The Servant Interview
Most people who have been through sales training learn that a key phase of the sales process is to interview the potential client to determine whether or not our product or service is a fit. Great sales people, and great sales organizations, realize that focusing on the interview, and shifting the focus of the interview, is the secret to sustainable, long-term sales success.
The sales greats don't look at the interview as a way to simply qualify or disqualify a potential client. They look at the interview as an opportunity to really understand a broad range of the person's goals, aspirations, and needs.
An effective interview includes questions like:
- What are you most passionate about?
- What are your top 3 professional goals for the next 12 months?
- What are your top 3 personal goals for the next 12 months?
- What are the top three issues faced by your organization right now?
By asking questions like this, we uncover all sorts of ways that we might be able to help the person we're interviewing that may have nothing to do with the product or service we're selling.
And that's point! We're shifting from trying to get a sale to simply being a servant in whatever way we can.
The Power of Being a Servant
There are several reasons why this is so effective. First, a person can sense when we need a sale, and it repels them.
Have you ever noticed that whenever you were single in your life it was often very hard to get a date? Why? It's because the energy of desire or desperation is quite unattractive. Yet, the moment you're in a committed relationship it seems that everyone wants to go out with you.
In the same way, when our focus is on helping a person however we can instead of on our own desires, we project a confident energy that is attractive to people. People like us more. Even more important, when people sense that we're genuinely focused on helping them, they trust us.
As most of us know, people are much more likely to do business with someone they like and trust.
Second, this approach helps us to generate sales even from encounters with people who would not benefit from our product or service.
If our product or service is not the best solution for the problems and needs we uncover during our interview, we still have lots of ways that we can be of service thanks to the thorough interview we conducted. One of the ways we could be of service is to refer the potential client to someone that could meet their needs, even if that person is our competitor.
This approach prevents us from acquiring a customer that would have ultimately been unsatisfied, which hurts us in the long term. Also, by helping the person meet her needs, she is likely to refer clients to us. Referred clients are much more likely to do business with us because there is already some built-in trust.
Third, by building such a solid foundation of trust with a potential client, and only asking for the business when our product or solution is a great fit for that person, closing becomes effortless most of the time. By the time we ask for the business (if we even have to ask at all), it's essentially a formality. The client already likes us, trusts us, and sees how we can solve a legitimate problem for him.
An Incredible Return on Investment
In addition to helping us earn new customers, this servant interview approach also helps us with our existing clients.
A great example of this is outlined in an excellent experiment reported by the Database Marketing Institute.
A manufacturer of building products, along with a consulting firm, divided their top 1,200 customers into a test group of 600 and a control group of 600. The control group was treated exactly as all other customers had been in the past.
The representatives working with the test group significantly ramped up communication with decision makers. They did not try to sell. They did not offer discounts. They simply worked at deepening friendships and providing valuable information.
The results were striking.
After six months, the test group made 12% more orders than they had in the previous six months, while the control group actually made 18% fewer orders (likely because of the recession). The test group placed 14% larger orders, while orders placed by the control group were actually 14% smaller than before. Overall, the test group ended up spending $2.6 million more with the company than did the control group during the test period. The test only cost $50,000, so the return on investment over six months was over 5,200%.
We all have an opportunity to realize an even greater return on investment. It only costs a little extra time to uncover the legitimate need of another person and work to help them however we can.
Matt Tenney is a social entrepreneur, an international keynote speaker, and the author of Serve to Be Great: Leadership Lessons from a Prison, a Monastery, and a Boardroom. To sign up for his free e-Zine and receive a free e-Book, click here.