Friday, April 24, 2015

The King and the Salesperson

I can remember the first time I saw this picture. It was a very long time ago; before computers, cell phones, faxes and most of the technology we take for granted today. After returning to the office from a weeklong trek across Iowa, I found the picture taped to the wall near my desk (it was the pre-cubicle era too). I got a heartfelt chuckle, then proceeded to make a couple of copies to pass along to other sales buddies at the local watering hole later that night. Over the years, I have seen variations of the picture literally dozens of times. Today, a client used the cartoon as an example I hadn’t thought about. Allow me to tell the story.

We arrive too late in the customer process
If you don’t understand customer issues until after the customer tells you about them, you may be arriving too late. Great sales teams uncover problems and make their customers aware of them before they actually turn into emergencies. Once the customer is knee deep in fixing things, their minds may be closed to your new ideas, innovative solutions or cool new technologies. As depicted here, they are too busy fighting battles to learn about new approaches.

A few years ago, we did some work for the Power Transmission Distributors Association (PTDA). We discovered the guy selling mechanical products into a new customer project learned about the projects something like 90 days prior to the seller with electronic solutions which were later used to control the mechanical devices. The sellers who used this extra time to position their company and products were often able to bridge into whole new product lines.

If you wait until the customer provides you with a solution and asks you to recommend products, you are still just another sales guy hawking a catalog full of products. Conversely, spot a problem before the customer and you become a valued business partner. Guess which one gets paid more?

We speak the wrong language
Let’s imagine for just a second the sales guy got a short appointment with the customer. Based on observing hundreds of upper level management calls gone wrong, I would surmise the typical conversation with the king would cover the size of bullets, the high quality barrel, the wonderfully designed stand and a blurb on the machine-gun company’s mission statement. All these powerful technology features would bore the king to tears.

What should be discussed? Productivity improvements. Things like a single soldier’s ability to defend the whole south gate and the elimination of the need for expensive swords might be appropriate. Case studies with examples of overextended kingdoms winning battles against hungry hordes are always appropriate. And, when you can leave the name of an innovative king in another part of the world as a reference, the king will perk up.

Back to reality. Financial people don’t look for product features or detailed technology overviews. They want to know two things: How will your product help them make more money? And, why are you certain your solution will work in their world? It’s a different conversation than most sellers have with their day-to-day contacts.

Back to the cartoon
They say a picture equals a thousand words and tells a hundred stories. I am interested in what this picture says to you?