Let’s start this one by stating an obvious fact: the way people buy has changed dramatically over the last 10 or so years.

Namely, with the widespread availability of social networking and customer reviews, potential customers spend a lot of time researching their options online before ever picking up a phone, writing an email or sending a message. Today, they do the heavy lifting a sales rep used to do themselves.

So if they’re spending all this time doing their homework, getting to know you… well, it stands to reason that you should do your homework and get to know them, too. What are they all about? What’s the landscape like in their industry? What keeps them awake at night? How do they make decisions? What do they really need, and when do they need it?

That’s the difference between the customer-centric and product-centric approaches to selling – one talks about the features of what you offer and stick to the same process every time – but the customer-centric approach hinges on their needs, from their perspective, on their terms. Its a shift in mindset, but how can your team pull it off?

Simplify  

It boils down to three words: put customers first. And it works. Almost three-quarters of buyers say winning vendors showed a strong knowledge of their company, and two-thirds report that knowledge about their needs and their business landscape, along with timely responses to questions and changes, were top factors. 

Makes sense, right? With so many options out there, being able to pinpoint a prospect’s situation and provide the most relevant content helps cut through the noise and narrow down their options – in your favour. 

Try: Sending a co-worker through a cadence and see how your outreach comes off to them. Is your outreach really customer-centric like you think it is?

Ask

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it keeps sales teams hitting quotas month in and month out. Top sales reps are curious with good reason: it helps them discern which prospects are a good fit and frame your product or service in the right light as a solution to their specific problems.

But it takes more than a list of one-size-fits-all questions to go from “qualified lead” to “qualified lead who’s excited about what you’re selling.” For that, those questions need to be personalized and targeted. Think of them as a tool to get to the underlying “why” – the crux of their problem – and understand how to position yourself as the solution.

Try: Prepare an agenda early with questions specific to each prospect that show you understand them and their business. 

Listen 

Yes, that means listening more than talking. Where average sales reps spend about 65 to 75 percent of call time making a pitch or explaining a product, the highest-converting talk-to-listen ratio lands around 43:57. (Though your ideal numbers are subject to your product, audience and sales cycle.)

Once you get prospects talking more, it’s time to listen – actively. Rather than spending your mental energy thinking about what to say or ask next, provide feedback on what the person on the other end of your call just said, confirm that you understand what they said and then ask relevant follow-ups to further clarify or get closer to that “why.” There’s nothing worse than when the prospect wants to know the price, but the next question in the script is what LMS they’re using. 

Try: Think of multiple paths a conversation might take ahead of time so you can focus on what’s being said rather than what you’re going to say next.

Empathize

What’s it like to be a prospective customer? To be on the other end of the call or email with a sales rep? To be experiencing the problems they’re experiencing? To be under the pressure they’re under? 

Sales is about more than a transaction. It’s a chance to genuinely offer help – and the best salespeople know it. They go deep into research on who they’re talking to before ever picking up the phone, whether it’s a scan through their social media to discover who they are and what they like, or a browse through their company’s website to understand what they stand for as an organization. And they ask for feedback along the way – a simple “Does that sound realistic?” or “Where are you at right now?” can go a long way. This can be the biggest hurdle to a customer-centric sales process.

Try: Pull your notes together ahead of time-based on the research you do so you can reference it throughout the call.

Empower

Sales conversations aren’t about pressure to sell – nor should they be in a world where potential buyers recoil at the thought of being sold to. Instead, they’re about the ways in which you empower them to make meaningful changes and reach their goals. That’s why you hear “helping is the new selling” so much.

The best way to help? Hint: it’s not a product. It’s the value you provide not just as a company but also as an expert in your field and as a partner helping their business grow. After all, they have the product information in hand. You’re there to give them the context around it that they need to make that final buying decision. You’re there to give them the power to pull the trigger and make change happen.

Try: Provide each prospect with a curated list of relevant content they can use to make their buying decision easier.

It takes a village

Your sales team pulls a lot of weight to make every buying experience a great one. But it goes beyond the pitch and the process. Everyone in your organization, from the marketers who create the content you send to the customer service reps who provide ongoing support after all the contracts are signed play a part, too. 

But for your part, it boils down to two things: be flexible enough to meet prospects on their terms, and do your homework – just like they do theirs. The future of sales is customer-centric.

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