How chronological order can be profitable…
In years past, “out bound” prospecting direct sales skill sets were not a necessity in the piano industry. Traffic was sufficient, representatives gave great demos, folks had discretionary income to spend and life was good. Today, after the“Amazon-ing” of America, the world is a much different place and the shoppers are online, which means pictures of products and prices are floating around allover cyberspace complete with shopping cart to place them in. So that’s how we should sell pianos, right? Send people pictures and prices via email and text and sell pianos based upon them seeing a picture of the right thing and liking the price… simple. That should work – NOT. Sure, the occasional remote sale can and does occur when you have that “just something” someone has been looking for, but don’t bet your career on that being the rule because it is the exception. Admit it or don’t read on.
Since outbound prospecting protocol in the piano industry was only active among institutional sales folks and not handed down as a part of the “day to day” sales culture, we have a challenge in front of us. The HUGE achievement we must find a way to serve is this: talk prospects out of cyberspace and into the showroom floor so they can fall in love with something. I do not want to revisit a lot of real estate covered in my last writing entitled “Sell the Opportunity, Not the Piano” so I encourage you to read that before this one. Why? Because this one will make even deeper sense out of the last one and give you some of the phycological reasoning behind that article. So, in essence: this article helps explain that one from a method standpoint but as long as you read them both you’ll get the full benefit intended to be imparted.
So, in that article I stated this: Sell yourself and your company as the best resource BEFORE you attempt to sell a piano. First you are selling confidence; only then are you in the proper position to sell a piano. Allow me to explain why I am so strongly opinionated. I come from the world of cold calling. In my early years, I did what the old school salesman on a beat called “burning up shoe leather.” I walked into mom-and-pop businesses, sight unseen, and figured out how to get people to take me seriously and give me the “time of day”, knowing that the only chance I had of selling something was to get the walls of pessimism and cynicism to come down ASAP. My sales survival depended on it; these businesspeople and gatekeepers had been hammered by cold call after cold call, so I adopted a method that separated me from the idiot salespeople that descended on them hourly. If you look at the chronological order of things as I lay them out, they will make perfect sense, so much so that you’ll wonder why you didn’t think of it yourself. Pragmatic, I promise… here we go:
Please look at all of your activity through the lens of this five- step method. It will serve you well and it will change your life. It will serve you and those you love better because it will make you more profitable.
Step #1 Establish Credibility. For the sake of this example, I’ll use our fictitious piano company name, the one we use in presentations. This FIRST thing you should sell is the company you work for, the brand(s) they carry and the benefits of finding a piano there. Some benefit examples:
How long the company has been helping people find the perfect piano inside their budget. Most of you work for a piano dealer who has a reputation of providing pianos FOR YEARS to the music community in your city/town. Let’s be honest – do you make sure you wax proud about where you work and how much you love working there at the front of your relationships? Rhetorical, right.
Here is an example of how you could begin engagement with a prospect via phone, text or e-mail (we recommend phone first always as your first impression because on the phone you can express a personality not available in electronic media):
Mrs. Johnson, this is _________ at Prestige Pianos. Thank you for inquiring about our inventory list (or playing our PianoPair game)! We love providing information to people on their journey to finding the perfect piano. We’ve been the absolute friendliest company to speak to for over forty years! To provide you the very most helpful information, I have a few, very brief questions. If you could call me back or text me at xxx-xxx-xxxx I promise to be a helpful tour guide who is respectful of your time. I have few brief questions. Have a wonderful day/evening. Once more this is ________ at Prestige Pianos. :30 seconds
So, what have we accomplished? Hopefully a friendly sounding first impression, a mention of longevity which speaks to credibility, and some curiosity about what questions we may have. We have stayed away from a long, sales-pitchy voicemail and ended the message with an appeal for the prospect to answer “a few, very brief questions”, which lets them know we respect their time. Most importantly, the heart and soul of the voice mail was a question which begs an answer and the leaving of a question gives us a MUCH better chance at ongoing dialogue.
In complete contrast to the first voice mail example, here is a more standard one:
Mrs. Johnson, this is _________ at Prestige Pianos. Thank you for your inquiry about baby grand pianos. If you could tell me which of the pianos on the list you were most interested in, I’d be happy to tell you more about that particular instrument. I can also arrange a time for you to come in and play it. Please call me back at xxx-xxx-xxxx at your first convenience. I’m here every day except Wednesday which is my day off. Once more this is __________ at Prestige Pianos and I look forward to hearing back from you.
Is the difference between this standard follow up and the first recommended one apparent to you? This voice mail is lasering in on an instrument, which is indicative of selling the piano as opposed to the opportunity.
Consider the first call you place as your first attempt at establishing credibility by building up the friendliness and expertise of your company, your “first impression”. It also goes a ways towards establishing some rapport because first impressions are best left with a positive, excited flavor and a servant’s heart. Do NOT sound like every boring salesperson who leaves them an automated message. Many buyers have divulged, after purchasing, that even though they don’t typically answer a sales phone call or return one, they DO answer a text or email much more readily if the voicemail was non-abrasive and servant oriented. Never feel like you are wasting your time with a well-staged voicemail; you are softening the resistance in a large way if you leave the right type.
Step #2 Establish Rapport This is a fancy way of saying “make a friend.” It is critical to get a prospect to like and trust you BEFORE you start the fact finding. At every juncture of your prospecting, remember this old Teddy Roosevelt saying: “Nobody cares what you know until they know that you care.” Here is my favorite saying: “The company with the most friends wins!” Getting the barriers of mistrust to come down is one of the oldest most significant challenges known to sales-dom; always has been. It still is. In our digital age, we may send many emails to gain someone’s confidence before they are willing to share their phone number with us. We send many texts before they are willing to speak “live” to us and we may need to employ “D”, all of the above, before we talk them onto the showroom floor. But these two items, establishing credibility first and then the rapport, cannot be stated too strongly. They are more important than any promotion or product knowledge you may be able to impart.
In the early years of my marriage, my wife used to think that I didn’t “get down to business” fast enough. She was thinking about the economy of the time I was investing, but later came to realize that my small talk and friend-making created a closing ratio that was much more time-saving than burning through relationships because prospects weren’t quite ready to buy. My pipeline became full of friends who bought at a slower but much higher rate than my competitors. The moral of this paragraph? By going too fast, you can really slow down your sales production. Some of the very, very best sales pros I’ve ever known seemed to sell effortlessly, although they were very intentional in working on relationship-selling and purposely slowing things down on the front end so they could get to the end game faster… make sense? The summary is simple – time spent NOT on product but on people is the very most valuable time you can spend in the sales process.
Step #3 Fact Finding (Identify needs) God gave you two ears and one mouth; take this ratio into consideration as you engage your prospects. If you concentrate on asking questions that get the prospect to paint the proper picture of why they want what they want, you’ll be doing yourself and them justice. Be very mindful of the trap that many associates fall into when they take the “fact finding” as an opportunity to impress the prospect with all the product knowledge they have, all the while forgetting to temper their expertise with concern for what the prospect is telling them. This is not the time to unload all of your product knowledge in an effort to impress them by how much of an expert you are, that they just have to buy because you are so smart. Timely and caring statements on topic will deepen their trust; a diatribe WILL NOT.
Simply ask questions that help them describe their needs; then raise their perception of value and the benefits of a fine instrument with facts about the benefits of said fine pianos. Gently guide the conversation toward benefits and value, in lieu of basic price shopping. Continue to reinforce the fact that this is an important decision and you just want to provide all the information they need to introduce them to the right pianos for them to consider. This decision is similar to consideration of a new family member they will be inviting to bring home. One that could potentially be in their family forever! Unless it is truly an entry level consideration, in which instance you should be setting them up for their next piano while they are deciding on the one that they need immediately.
The goals of the fact finding are crucial to presenting to the prospect the perfect instruments to consider. If you get a true feel for their needs and budget by asking the right questions and presenting the right options, your presentation/demonstration will be on target. If you are not in true tune (pardon the pun) with their dreams and/or wishes, you probably talked too much and didn’t get them to open up enough. You then run the risk of spending your time trying to sell them what you want them to buy instead of what they are willing to buy. Please remember to appeal to their emotions at every opportunity. It is amazing how price becomes very, very secondary after a prospect falls in love with an instrument. Luxury items are most often bought on emotion, then backed up with logic. Concentrate on the feelings first, then use your product knowledge to reinforce the matter when they are in the midst of making a good decision. Unless you are dealing with the occasional analytical type, feelings are the key, not specs. Specs can be the closer AFTER the feelings are engaged and heightened; so as is the entire purpose of the 5 Step Sales Process, be mindful of the order of things: feelings first; then statistics, nuts and bolts. You never want to spend valuable time expounding on something that the listener is not excited about.
Step #4 Make Sincere Recommendations/The Selection Process
By the time you have narrowed the possibilities down to the two or three instruments the prospective buyer should consider, you should have already accomplished three critical things:
#1 You have convinced them that your company is a safe and reputable one to do business with and that the brand(s) you are showing them are a great option to consider.
#2 You have convinced them that you are a trustworthy expert who has their best interests at heart.
#3 You have gleaned enough about why they want an instrument, who will play it, and all the pertinent info necessary to present the proper piano options inside, or close to, their price range.
I do recommend appealing to their dreams and showing them the “piano of their future” first (in the spirit of top-down selling) before you present the pragmatic options IF you didn’t do so already in the fact finding to get a feel for their price range or passion for quality. My instinct has always been to get them to dream BIG before the price range is established. It can elevate what they feel when they hear excellence in lieu of more pedestrian options. The selection process should be non-invasive and servant-hearted. The client can be encouraged to consider certain things, but unless they come out and ask you which one you think they should choose, you should not be too assertive. Their love and needs will guide them in a certain direction and their willingness to spend certain amounts will be tied to their excitement level about singular pianos. Remember to act as the concierge on their way to their best long-term decision without being forceful. You don’t want to undermine the confidence you have built in case they do turn to you at decision time for something other than the “best price.” They may need the emotional validation only a friend can provide. Finally, it is time, with these other elements in place, for the final step…
Step #5 Closing
Honestly, in years past, closing was more important and pertinent than it is today. Book after book was written, seminar after seminar, workshop after workshop and the mantra ABC (Always Be Closing) was the battle cry for salespeople. Another saying repeated over and again to reinforce the ABC culture was, “the minute they walk out that door, your chance to do business with them just went down 50%.” That was the mindset when the discretionary dollars were flowing like wine.
The reality in today’s landscape is that people want to buy, they just don’t want to be sold. The old culture of dickering and having the salesman go back to the sales manager for the “new best price” is unsavory to most buyers today. This is why terms like “true pricing” and “transparency” have become popular. The most reliable way to close a deal in today’s environment is to position yourself as the concierge and after giving the prospect their best options, simply ask them what their decision is.
Pressure is negative and, in most cases, an inefficient tactic and a deal killer. A kind question such as, “Is this the instrument you feel fits your needs best?” will serve the prospect, your reputation and your closing ratio much better than reviving some old, antiquated closing techniques and being worried about the old “today and today only” mentality. I could create or list a lot of “kind” and effective closing questions but since sales is a creative act, it is best for you to “feel” the heart and spirit of the potential buyer and craft a caring question that fits their personality and needs at the time.
The take-away here for the fifth and final step is: if you performed steps 1 – 4 correctly and did not get out of sequence, step 5 (which used to be the most difficult step and the one the so called experts wrote volumes about) is the easiest and least important. If you effectively get them to believe in your company and product and get them to like you, if you listen intently so you make the most pragmatic recommendations, then present the proper options based upon their needs and financial capabilities, closing is simply a question you ask so that they can make a choice. It is not an art or sales survival situation; it is simply a question they answer based upon their capability to purchase driven by the passion you allowed them to experience. Back to sales 101: people buy on an emotion and back it up with logic. Great salespeople deal in emotions and benefits; good salespeople deal in perseverance in spite of a lack of compassion. Poor salespeople (and might I be bold enough to say manufacturers) deal primarily in moving units… contrary to the fact that every dollar bill spent is tied to a person with thoughts and feelings, not necessarily looking for the lowest price, but the best way to enhance their lives. It is our job to be the tour guide, not the convincer in spite of their spirit. Music in its original state is an expression, not a widget, get it? Sell to that feeling and benefit, not your need; by placing their need first yours will thrive.
In summary: enjoy the process and the challenges, and the results will manifest themselves. Have fun selling, it is the best way to be a top performer.