By Mr Gary Wyles, MD, Festo Training & Consulting

Good sales is more than just a strong pitch. You have to really listen and understand the needs of your customer before you can sell products and services. This is the art of the consultative sell. It’s a far step removed from the hard, aggressive approach that has characterised some sales people who will try to flog you what you don’t need and usually at a price you can’t afford. The world and the markets have moved on.

The UK is now a mainly professional services economy where we’ve had to learn new ways of selling. With strong competition in terms of global manufacturing and where innovation can be almost instantly copied, we have to have a point of differentiation that no longer relies on product superiority or price. Building long-term customer relationships has become a major focus of UK organisations. Relationships that begin at the initial enquiry stage and migrate through to excellent after sales service can add real value and differentiation to products and services — so you are chosen, regardless of cost. To do this requires a different approach to sales.

We need to create a real and deep understanding of our customer’s behaviour and attitudes before we even consider embarking on matching a product or service to fit their requirements. If a customer has compiled a very specific brief about their requirements you might believe that if you tick every box you will be in with a chance of getting the business. Wrong. A brief might set out certain specifications, but although these will influence a purchasing decision, it is rare that they will be the only requirement.

At Festo, in our role as an engineering organisation as well as a training organisation, we have identified eight specific customer needs. If you can really understand each of these needs, you will be well on the way to responding to your customer faster and better and, crucially, as an individual.

Eight Customer Needs

Security: do I trust it will do what I need it to? Does it meet appropriate standards?

Convenience: does it make my life easier?
Service: am I treated as an individual?

Image: does this choice reflect well on me and my company?

Performance: will it do what I need it to do?

Finance: does it fit within the budget I have?

Power: Do I feel I am in control of what is happening?

Order: it is organised / produced so it is easy and logical to me?

To establish the priority of these needs requires questioning skills and abilities. It’s about asking open questions, rather than closed questions which just require a Yes / No answer. This is a very different approach and by really probing, listening to responses and building these into your next question you will establish rapport, trust and credibility and your customer will feel valued and understood.

The next stage is responding to these needs. Repetition is essential here. Repeat back these needs in order of preference. This shows that you have listened and taken their needs into account. Then demonstrate how your solution will meet these needs.

By recording this information and then sharing it, your colleagues who pick up the relationship will start from a position of knowledge and understanding of the customer. If these relationships are carried through the organisation and the customer receives the same excellent experience, it will become the culture of the organisation — or in simple terms ‘how we do it around here’.

There’s no doubt that this is a personal and time intensive approach. It’s investing in long term relationships. Yes, this does take more time but that’s really our most valuable commodity. If we spend time with our customers, listen to them and respond to their needs you’ll get the sale and through your relationship, build repeat business and referrals.

With this approach selling is helping. The aim is always a win/win situation for both you / your company and your customers. When you make a sale you’ve helped your customer either solve a problem or meet a need or several needs. The ideal outcome is that you and you customer should feel the process is one they would like to repeat again and again in the future.