Solution-Oriented Selling: Listen First, Speak Second
There are many kinds of salespeople in marketing. Some are more successful than others, but in my mind the most successful ones are what many refer to as the "solution sellers."
Solution selling is an art and a science that revolves around a simple practice: listen first and sell second.
Solution sellers are a special breed of salesperson because they have to engage other people with interpersonal skills that are not easily taught. In many cases they either have these skills -- or they don't. The best are the ones who demonstrate legitimate interest in the people on the other side of the table. These people want to create mutually beneficial situations where everyone wins.
Solution sellers ask the right kinds of questions that get the buyer talking and conveying his or her needs and objectives, which allows them to craft a viable set of solutions to the challenges facing their clients. Solution sellers are also highly social, engaging with many, many other people in the business, and always very willing to share information and leads and help those around them.
In a solution-oriented environment, salespeople may be able to say, "I have a solution for your needs and here it is" -- but they should also be willing to say, "I don't have the best solution for you right now, but you should talk to this person because I think they can help." Solution sales creates highly valuable, relationships with a high degree of trust -- relationships that are almost always lucrative in the long run.
The opposite of a solution-oriented salesperson has many names. Some refer to them as snake-oil salesmen or used-car dealers (not that there's anything wrong with used-car dealers). These are the people who typically say, "I can do that" even before they know what you need. These salespeople come into a first meeting with an agenda all about them. They start sentences with "I want you to..." or "I need to show you..." These are the "speak first, listen second" types, who may sell lots of media and make lots of money, but may fail at creating relationships. These folks tend to jump ship after six to nine months, looking for the next big thing and failing to do their due diligence before they land.
The solution sellers are a benefit to every company they work with. These are the employees whom I recently called your single biggest marketing asset -- the folks who should be retained at almost any cost. These are the kinds of salespeople you want training your junior salespeople, who will create a strong, positive culture in your company for years to come.
And don't get me wrong; these people are not weak. They are closers, but they know when to walk away from an opportunity if they don't think they can be successful. Sometimes the best way to sell is to recognize when you can't be successful. If there's no sale there, or at least no sale that will work, why waste the client's time and money? Why waste your valuable time on a fool's errand? No amount of money from a media sale is worth the negative reflection on your personal character if you went into the deal knowing it wouldn't work.
So in your next sales meeting, whether it's with you and a client or you and a publisher, make sure you are solution-selling by doing two things: listen first, and recognize if you have what they need or not. I can assure you that things will go way better if you are open, honest and solution-oriented.