Thursday, February 11, 2010

Knowledge: Introverts Secret Weapon to Sales Success

I am a firm believer that knowledge truly is power. Not only does it boost self-confidence, it increases your value in the marketplace, within both the company you are employed and with your clients and prospects. Therefore it's very important to learn from those around us.

When you come to be recognized as an expert, you'll find walls crumbling down and lines of communication open up. In fact, you'll even find yourself being invited into prospects' offices, asking you to do business with them. Just be careful not to give all of your expertise away.

Exhibiting deep understanding and insights into your target market immediatily will set you apart from majority of the sales people. It'll position you, the introverted sales person, as a serious, customer-focused professional, as a valuable resource, someone who can help solve critical problems.

It is my personal experience that clients ultimately want to deal with professionals who can help them succeed. Sure it is important to have a nice personality for given two sales people of equal caliber, customer will choose to do business with the one they like. Therefore being likable combined with possessing extensive knowledge and expertise will lead to your sales success, over time.

When I speak of knowledge, I am referring to 3 kinds. They include:

1. Knowledge of your target market--your customers and prospects;

2. Knowledge of your competititors;

3. Knowledge of your organization, products, services, solutions.

In this post, I want to touch on item #1 and in subsequent posts I will write about the others.

In the area of customer knowledge, spend the time and energy gathering (via for example, listening, asking probing questions, quietly observing, reading) following types of information:

1. How your clients define success and the challenges they face in achieving their success.

2. Walk in the shoes of your customers, and even their customers, understanding the supply chain and how your offerings fit into that overall chain.

3. Understand what happens to your products and services at your client site. Sometime what appears to be minor elements will surface, other times major. For example, when I was in printing, we were labeling our boxes on the long side of the box. Upon visiting clients, I observed they frequently stacked boxes with the short side showing, causing our labels to be covered, causing immense frustation to the clients. As a result, we switched the lable position to the short side, leading to increased client satisfaction. Many such simple steps contributed to high client retention and higher then industry profitability-steps we would not have known to take unless we walked in the shoes of our clients.

4. Get to know as many people within your client organizations, at various levels. Often silos exist where departments don't talk to each other, causing significant communication gaps. If your solutions cut across various deparments, you'll be in a great position to "connect the dots", build bridges, and adjust your solutions accordingly. Furthermore, additional opportunties for you are likely surface. Equally importantly, the more relationships you form, the stronger your foothold within your clients organizations.

5. Understand their organizational structures, who their ideal clients are, their products & services, strengths and weaknesses and so on. This will allow you to keep a look out for opportunities for your clients too as you're out and about. You'll come to know of various open positions available in your marketplace and your clients will start to even reach out to you to help them find suitable positions when they are in the market to make a change. You'll become in essense part of their team, their partner which is so much better then being viewed as just a vendor, a term which I personally hate.

Btw, I have been mostly using the term customer in this post. What I am writing also applies to your prospects. Since you are focusing on a particular niche, as I discussed in my post "Fish Where the Fish Are", the challenges your clients face, it's likley your prospects face similar challenges. Therefore, the more you know about your clients, indirectly you'll also be learning lot about your prospects too.

Finally, if you're managing others, I am a strong beliver that you also must have your own clients to serve and prospects to market to. This will allow you to keep your own "fingers on the pulse". Nothing is more powerful then having first hand information through your own experiences.

For both your own and your organizations long-term success, make market focus a personal, strategic priority. Have a learning mindset at all times. Continously looking, listening and learning holds the keys to success, both today and tomorrow.

One word of caution. NEVER assume you know "everything". As the more you learn, the easier it becomes to fall into the "I Know" trap. Nothing is ever constant, except change. Therefore, even when you think you know, assume nothing. Instead, keep an open mindset. Like a parachute, it'll only work best when it's open.

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