In 1986, I was the district sales manager of a software and professional services company that sold electronic cash registers called Point of Sales (POS) systems and customer software development in Hartford CT to independent and chain restaurants.
The restaurant market is a funny industry to sell into. Some of the business owners are Harvard MBA's who made their money on Wall Street and just want to be well-respected proprietors of white tablecloth operations to impress their friends. Others are immigrants (like my family) who came to this country and became successful entrepreneurs by opening pizza parlors and other specialty restaurants. Over time, they kept knocking out walls and adding items to their menu. One day they woke up to discover they had a 400 seat, high-volume restaurant generating millions of dollars annually.
So, it is often hard to judge the business sophistication of the buyer you are speaking with.
One day, one of my more experienced sales team members (whom we'll call George) asked me to attend a client presentation and demo he was giving to a president of a mini-restaurant chain which had three locations.
Before leaving for the client site, we went through a pre-meeting discussion and opportunity review on our identified talking points, the anticipated sales objections we might encounter when we meet with the prospect, why they would buy and why they would not.
To be honest, George was a pretty sharp salesperson, who was on quota year to date, was accurate in sales forecasts, and looked at sales as a profession, not a way station for a real career.
After George and I completed our pre-sales planning meeting and plotting our sales steps, we went to the prospect's site, set up our marketing material and equipment and started the presentation. The prospect team included eight people with a broad range of restaurant backgrounds including the individual restaurant managers, the restaurant hostesses, the CFO, and the president.
My sales account manager was smooth and prepared, gliding through the presentation, asking questions and responding to the sales objections we anticipated hearing.
As he started the hands-on part of the demonstration of our offering, he walked over to oldest person in the room, who was also the hostess in the biggest restaurant and said, "Let me show you how our program works. This is simple system to use -- anyone can use it, even you."
Immediately, the lady stood up and said, "I may be old, but I am not stupid. I am the one who selected the current corporate accounting system" and walked out the door never to be seen again.
To say a tornado had whisked into the room and sucked all of the air out . . . would be an understatement.
As we all sat there for a very long ten seconds -- the president of the company then got up, shook his head and said: "That was not smart -- that was my grandmother who gave me the money to start my first restaurant" and then he walked out the door.
Sales Mistake Review
Never make assumptions on the importance of a person in your sales process. If management invites lower titled people to your meeting, they must have buying input or equal influence, so be cautious of how you interact with them.
To help minimize strategic sales mistakes during your sales presentations, follow these guidelines.
5 Actions to Take to Protect You
From This Kind of Mistake
Prior to your prospect meeting, always ask for a list attendees along with their titles and their interests or company responsibilities related to the purchase.
If management has invited someone to your presentation to discuss your offering, treat them with equal respect. Never assume that they are less important than other higher titled attendees.
Create a prospect list of questions before you go to your meeting for each attendee who has been identified. Even if you know the answers, engage all presentation attendees to make them feel involved. Questioning prospects is not just a tool to educate you; questioning prospects is also a tool to help prospects feel like they are participants in the buying process -- it helps them "see" your business value.
If you have a presentation attendee who says nothing during your discussion, always ask them, "John, you have been quiet today -- what do you think of our offering?" Quiet attendees usually kill your deal later with comments like, "Well, he did not answer my questions."
Remember . . . it is not what you say -- it is what people hear. To sell more, study your language.
True enough.! These days, participatory communication is the perfect approach to selling. The best way to sell, whether it's a product, service, or idea is to always empower people through your messages.
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