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    5 Assumptions Boat Reps Made About Me Last Weekend (And Why Your Salespeople Need to Do Better)

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    Recently, there was a boat show at a dock near our home and I decided to pop in and take a look at what’s new and exciting. It’s fun to amble down the dock and look at the many options, from motorboats to sailing boats and everything in between.

    As one would expect, each boat had at least one rep aboard with a friendly smile and some product flyers. The shocker? Not a single one of these reps actually had good sales skills.

    An Afternoon of Terrible Sales Behavior

    The motor boats on display were mid-range models, watercraft that an average middle to high income family can afford. Not yachts for the ultra rich, but not cheap little dinghies either. The rough price range for most models was somewhere in the upper tens to upper hundreds of thousands of dollars.

    From a sales perspective, boats like this might seem on the surface to be a simple, transactional sale. But the price of a boat in this range is not something that the average family will drop without a fair amount of consideration. And in most families, both spouses are likely to have an impact on the sale, not to mention there may be children and extended family with influence.

    For that reason, I would classify this level of sale as a moderately complex sale. With that in mind, I expected the sales teams to have a fair amount of training, experience, and skill in having a value-based sales conversation and managing a simple sales process.

    I expected wrong.

    Every single time I went on board one of the boats, the salesperson was friendly and put on a smile. They said “hi, how are you,” and engaged in idle chit chat. So far, so good. Then every single one of them did one of two things:

    • They went completely silent (most of them), or
    • They went directly to a product pitch (a few of them)

    In order to engage further with them, I had to ask them questions. Who designed this boat, what’s good about it, what makes it better than the other boats on the dock?.

    All of them went directly into the product pitch. What the boat could do, what it could not do. Its engine specs and technical features. One of them even jumped straight to telling me I’d better buy soon because the price is going up next year.

    One of the plagues of the sales industry is that we make too many assumptions.

    What not one of them did was ask me questions. They didn’t want to know why I was there, if I already had a boat, if I had a family, what I planned to do with a boat, or any other qualifying questions. And not a single needs-analysis or stakeholder discovery question.

    Only one of them even asked me for my contact information.

    Considering that I wasn’t even there to buy a boat, and since I didn’t want to receive more spam email, I declined to provide it.

    5 Bad Assumptions The Boat Reps Made (That Your Salespeople May be Guilty of Too)

    If you’re cringing because you’ve seen these bad sales tactics within your own industry, good. At least you’re aware of them. One of the plagues of the sales industry is that we make too many assumptions, and it short circuits our ability to discover what we need to discover in order to be effective at sales.

    1. The Buyer Is Here to Buy
      Every salesperson I encountered that day may have assumed I actually wanted to buy a boat. Just like some b2b salespeople assume that buyers who accept sales calls want to buy.

      The truth is, buyers join sales calls for many, many reasons. Sometimes they’re shopping competitively and just have to check off a box. Sometimes they’re filling out a spreadsheet for someone else. Sometimes they’re just curious. You won’t know unless you ask.
    2. You Know What the Buyer Wants
      When I asked them to tell me about the boat, each salesperson told me about the features they felt were the boat’s finest selling points. But they knew nothing about me and what matters to me and my family.

      Similarly, when your salespeople jump immediately to talking about your product’s features, they’re assuming that the buyer wants what they have to sell. But buyers have all kinds of different needs, and they may or may not match up with what you think is important.
    3. The Buyer Knows What the Buyer Wants
      Even if I had been there to purchase a boat, and even if the features the salesperson showed me happened to match up with what I thought I wanted, that was no guarantee I was going to get what I wanted. A lot of first-time boat buyers buy the fanciest, or the fastest, or the most spacious boat they can afford.

      But that isn’t always what they actually need. For instance, if they want to get out to sea, bask in the sun, and then go back home or sleep at a bayside hotel, a large family boat with plenty of beds won’t be the right choice.

      In complex B2B sales this is even more true. For instance, if your buyer thinks they want the heaviest construction truck on the market, and you don’t carry the heaviest truck on the market, you might lose the sale. But if you dig deeper and find out that what they actually want is the most efficient way to move stone out of a quarry, you can show them how a larger fleet of smaller trucks is a more effective choice, and make the sale.

      Most of the time, unfortunately, B2B sales teams assume that whatever the buyer tells them they want is what they want, and they jump to sharing the features without digging deeper to find the true need.
    4. The Person Who is Here is the Decision Maker
      If I had been planning to buy a boat that day, I would not have gone alone. My wife and I make large financial decisions together. And in the case of a recreation vehicle like a boat, what our kids think matters, too. I’d have brought the whole family.

      Or, if I were making preliminary judgments, I’d have brought the information back to them and then brought them to have a look later. Some families might go in on a purchase with an extended family member, in which case the in-law and their closest family members are also stakeholders in the purchase.

      Every single salesperson at the show assumed that since I was the one there, I was the only person they needed to “sell.”

      In complex B2B sales, this mistake is even more deadly, because the number of decision makers can be exponentially larger than the number of buyers for a boat.
    5. Manipulative Tactics Make Sales
      Maybe in some cases manipulation works. But most people who achieve a place in life where they can put a few hundred thousand dollars into a boat have also achieved a place in life where they’re sick of the crap.

      So when a salesperson tells me that I need to buy this year because the price goes up by 10% next year, the main thing that happens is I get a bad taste in my mouth. Unless you have a very compelling reason why this particular boat is the boat I particularly need, I will go elsewhere to buy my watercraft.

      Manipulative tactics may take your B2B sales team across the finish line occasionally, but it’s not a sustainable practice. In complex B2B, trust is even more important and damaging it can cause long-term harm to your sales and customer satisfaction.

    As I talk about in my book, assumptions are deadly to sales. Salespeople need to know how to dig deeper, past the assumptions, and address real customer needs and wants in a way that customers understand, and communicate that value effectively.

    Imagine a salesperson who asked me all those questions, who discovered that I already have a boat but am dissatisfied with it in a few ways. Who learned that my wife and children would be part of the decision-making process. Who uncovered the specific ways that we’re dissatisfied and the things that would make a boat a better investment for us. Imagine that this salesperson also led me through a discovery process in which I came to understand that some of my needs would be better met by one of their models.

    Imagine that they have a trade-in program so that we could upgrade from our old boat for an achievable price. Imagine that they asked me to bring the rest of my family by so they can see for themselves. And imagine that they followed up to schedule a time for all of us to gather.

    They might just have sold me a boat.

    George Brontén
    Published September 20, 2023
    By George Brontén

    George is the founder & CEO of Membrain, the Sales Enablement CRM that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy. A life-long entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto "Don't settle for mainstream", he is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills, and processes. George is also the author of the book Stop Killing Deals and the host of the Stop Killing Deals webinar and podcast series.

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