Discovering Buyer Insights Through Perception

Author: 
Sedric Hill

The following story derives from conversations with “Pat,” a sales team member, after our several interactions with a customer in the medical equipment industry. Given Pat’s impressive selling expertise, I decided to probe his thinking after each sales call we made together in order to gain insights on why he reacted in certain ways.

On the initial visit with the customer, Pat prequalified them for one of our advanced software products. The customer was receptive to our offer and responded by setting up a follow-up meeting. During the second visit, Pat inquired about integrating our software with the company’s order management system (OMS). Gary, the principal decision maker, told us that he had problems dealing with his OMS vendor, which he viewed as unreasonable. He stated in no uncertain terms that he preferred not to deal them any further. As Gary continued, Pat noticed that his body language conveyed concern, like a feeling of being unsettled about something. His facial expressions came across as nervously optimistic. Upon further questioning, Gary admitted that his OMS was becoming obsolete but the vendor was asking forty-five thousand dollars for upgrades. As a result, Gary felt he was being pressured to upgrade to the new system at an inflated price.

The next day, my team met to figure out the best way to provide the solution to meet the customer’s needs. Our technical specialist made it clear that we would need to connect our software to the OMS in order to meet this goal.

Pat and I met with Gary and his operations manager for a third meeting. Immediately, he could see the customer was concerned about making any changes to his OMS. Gary brought it up again, recalling the negative experience with his OMS vendor. As he spoke, Pat noticed that when he began to explain the OMS issue, his body language and tone appeared similar to that of other clients he had experienced. Gary’s voice shifted to a more concerning tone as he described the problem. He shook his head as he gestured toward a nearby computer screen – one of the OMS workstations. The tone and language Gary used fit the same pattern as our previous discussion, so Pat decided to change course and address the concern.

At that moment, Pat recalled previous scenarios where his customers had overcome similar issues. I noticed Pat began connecting with Gary, looking him in the eye and showing empathy. Gary started to listen. At this point, Pat informed him that we would not subject him to having to make major changes to his OMS. After hearing about clients that Pat had helped to overcome similar issues, Gary grew more relaxed and engaging. Here is a summary of Pat’s response:

  • He aligned his goal with Gary’s and made sure he knew that his concerns were understood.
  • He presented two alternative methods that would avoid or minimize the OMS issue.
  • He painted a hypothetical picture using the alternative methods. This created a new vision of how our solution could add value and solve Gary’s concerns.
  • He skipped the technical questionnaire part of his presentation. This avoided highlighting Gary’s negative association with his OMS vendor.

Instead, Pat saved it for a more opportune time where he could condition the discussion. His Spidey-sense was telling him that going through that questionnaire at that moment could have been a deal breaker. Pat’s decision to share insights from other customers disrupted Gary’s thinking and neutralized the OMS problem. Notably, this allowed him to continue through the sales process.

This entire sequence occurred within the first few minutes of the meeting. The conversation gained momentum and flowed smoothly into a very productive discussion.

After reflecting on the sales calls and speaking in depth with Pat, his actions can be described as adaptive selling. He adjusted his sales message by listening intently to Gary’s concerns before offering new insights that changed the customer’s thinking. Said another way, it was a matter of detecting cues, quickly figuring out what they meant, and reacting to his concerns. With respect to the OMS obstacle, when we sat down with Gary, we discovered an export feature in the OMS that allowed us to accomplish the task. Within a couple of weeks, Gary placed a new sales order with Pat, and he remains a delighted customer.

During sales interactions, expert sellers perform persuasive communication as follows:

  1. Actively listening while monitoring nonverbal buying cues
  2. Discovering the prospect’s buying needs and objectives within the situation context
  3. Developing insights
  4. Generating and presenting multiple solution options
  5. Evaluating presentation effectiveness
  6. Continuing to monitor the dialogue for useful cues and feedback

Sales messages can have a myriad of different interpretations with buyers, but through active listening and connecting, we’re able to convey and understand messages better. In a typical selling dialogue, the speed at which messages are constructed, evaluated, and responded to is truly a human phenomenon. In fact, language, to a certain extent, remains

a mystery to science. We can form eloquent language at the speed of thought without preplanning what we want to say. Therefore, our goal is to break down these perceptual actions by describing them in sort of a slow-motion way. This helps to illuminate the underlying elements of perceptual expertise. The learning goal is to locate where the expert perceptual advantage is versus trying to figure out how to do it.

By understanding perceptual actions, we heighten our awareness and create the conditions for improvement. For instance, this is likened to shopping for a new car, and afterward, spotting more cars like the one you test drove or purchased. Psychologists refer to this phenomenon as observational selection bias. Hence, when we become more aware of our perceptions, we create the conditions to be more perceptive. Said more simply, you can see more of what others don’t, when you decide you want to see it.

Sedric Hill is the president and co-founder of Sales Development & Performance. This is excerpt from his book “Expert Selling: A Blueprint to Accelerate Excellence,” which was published earlier this year.