A Fine Suit Is Tailored, Not Made

In my previous article, you discovered there are four basic tenets of the sales process, and now you have the basis for a highly successful career.  Sales are a process, a step-by-step process that everyone in your company should know forwards and backwards.  Why?  Because everyone in your company is a salesman.  It doesn’t matter if you’re training new employees, or educating your executive PhD’s in astrophysics.  Everyone must understand the process, and when they don’t, then your boss will likely find someone that does.  When the boss doesn’t understand the process, then the company fails.

Remember all those rumors you’ve heard about how Steve Jobs was so ruthless behind closed doors?  That was Steve Jobs getting frustrated with his own people because they didn’t understand the sales process.  Pure and simple, Steve Jobs knew exactly what the next step was, and many of his executives were clueless.  Thankfully, Jobs pushed his vision, and had no trouble ripping someone’s head off when they didn’t come through for him.  Bottom line, Jobs was a salesman, while many around him had no idea how to sell anything.

Did Steve Jobs have a PhD?  No!  Did he have a college degree?  No!  Steve Jobs dropped out of college after just two years, and with that decision, he changed the world we know today.  Why?  Because he could sell.

As you may recall, the four steps of the sales process are:

  1. Meet & Greet
  2. Qualify
  3. Overcome Objections
  4. Ask For the Sale

In this article, I’m going to explore the second step, Qualify, with you.  Qualifying a customer is the second most important part of the sales process.  Notice I said second, and not the first.  Properly qualified, any customer can be sold what you’re offering.  In the case of Steve Jobs, he was trying to sell a solution for Apple customer’s, not just a product.  It took a tremendous amount of vision, and clearly, his battles, with his own people, were uphill.

After years of research, and waiting for the technology to develop, Apple created what their customer’s wanted.  The iPhone.  The iPhone was simply the product that interfaced with Apple’s solution.  It offered, and met, their customer’s demands, their customer’s qualifications.

The qualification process can take years to develop.  It can easily be the most time consuming aspect of the sales process.  We see this in Apple’s situation, and their loyalty to their customer’s, has made them one of the largest, and most respected company’s on the planet.  It took years for Apple to research what their customer’s wanted, and it was these qualifications that guided Apple.

So how do I qualify a customer?  This takes patience and “great” listening skills!  To say the least, qualifying a customer requires you to shut your mouth, and open your ears.  Listen to what the customer is saying, and understand that your customer is not going to have a well outlined statement to help you do your job.  Customers are going to present their concerns from all directions.  It’s your job to sort, organize and reflect back to the customer what they want.  Once this is complete, then, and only then, can you start to offer products/solutions.

Fortunately, the qualification process has the same format for every customer.  It goes like this:

Open end question

  • Close end question
  • Close end question
  • Close end question

Open end question

  • Close end question

Open end question

  • Close end question
  • Close end question

As you can see, while the previous paragraph is short and concise, the qualifying process is very lengthy and time consuming.  As a salesman, you need to win your customer over, and to do this, you need to demonstrate that you understand their concerns.  This is NOT easy!  Expect this to be a long and drawn out process, and expect to encounter headaches all along the way.  Remember, you’re not just selling them a product/solution, you’re also educating them about what your particular company has to offer.

So what’s an open end question vs. a close end question?  Open end questions are questions that the customer will answer with an explanation.  Since I sold high performance parallel super computers, one of the first open end questions I would ask is, “What will this computer system be computing?”  Then I would follow this open end question with close end questions.  A close end question is a one word answer among two or three choices.  An example would be a “yes” or “no” answer, or maybe a color choice, “Do you prefer the red or blue?”  In the case of high performance computers, a close end question would be, “Is this a memory intensive, or core intensive software?”  “How many computer nodes will you need?”

Do you see the format?  The open end question frames the topic, and the close end question addresses all the customer’s concerns for this topic.  Do you see how this guides your sales process?  Your company has a product/solution, and you can guide the customer to your solution with the proper open/close end questions.  The open end question must be followed up, always, with close end questions.  If you need to ask 17 close end questions, after just one open end, then that’s what you do.  To say the least, it is vital to have open end, as well as close end questions drafted “before” you meet your customer.  Write them down, practice them, game plan with others, and create possible objections.

Now let’s take Eastman Chemical as an example.  Why Eastman Chemical?  Because you’ve always known them as Eastman-Kodak, the camera/film manufacturers.  You may not think of them as a chemical company.  Of course, how do you think they developed all those pictures?  It was through the chemical process that your pictures were developed.  So what else do they do?  Plenty!  However, how many people know this?  Sure, if you’re in film production you know that Eastman chemical will likely be a solution provider, but what if you’re bottling pomegranate juice?

In the above paragraph, do you see how the salesman can have an uphill climb?  What if the customer has no idea that your company has a solution for them?  What if a customer’s perception of Eastman Chemical causes them to ignore Eastman altogether?  As you can see, the qualification process, with just a handful of possible perceptions, can make for a difficult sales process.  Patience, listening, question preparation, understanding your product, your company and everything you can offer, is vital to moving the sales process forward.  Keep in mind, there is no step three, until step one and two are complete.  It must happen in order, and it must happen to the satisfaction of the customer.

As the title reads, this article is about a fine tailored suit, and not a clearance rack item.  What’s the difference?  Clearly, they’re both suits, but the difference is in the product solution “fit”.  If your customer doesn’t see a fit, they’ll go elsewhere.  A fine tailored suit is a great, and easy to see, example of the complete sales process.  To get a good fit, the tailor must have a customer in front of them (Meet & Greet), then they must know your measurements, your preferences, your tastes, and your style (Qualify with open end questions).  Next the tailor needs some hard facts (Qualify with close end questions) … waist size, inseam, chest, color, two-piece, three-piece.  Inevitably the tailor’s going to educate the customer on such items as sleeve length, cuffs, dress shirts, ties and belts (Overcome Objections).  Once all three steps have been complete, the most important of all the sales process must happen (Ask for the sale).  At some point, the tailor must ask for the business transaction.  “That’ll be $3,217 dollars.  May I get your suit ready for you?”

The most important point to take away from this article, have patience and deliver customer loyalty.  You must pay attention to details, and the only way to do this is to listen.  This step “will” be difficult, frustrating, complicated, unorganized, and overwhelming.  This is the time to prepare, take notes, ask questions, summarize your understanding of the customer’s needs, and build that customer loyalty by demonstrating you have what it takes to bring them out on top.

Always remember, as a salesman, just like a tailor, you’re NOT an order taker.  There’s no skill in taking orders.  There’s no blood, sweat or tears.  Your job is to sell product/solutions and crush your competition.  It takes patience, organization, great listening skills, outstanding product/solution knowledge, grit, determination, vision, and most importantly . . . leadership.  Steve Jobs had all this, and that’s why he’s a worldwide icon.

So when you’re looking for your next salesman, take a tip from Steve Jobs.  Your salesman doesn’t need a PhD, they don’t need to know your product, inside and out, before they walk in the door, they don’t even need an education in the field your company represents.  They do however, need to know how to sell.  They must know the sales process as readily as they know the directions to their home address.  Make sure you’re looking for someone that will move the sales process in the right direction, and before you hire them, always ask if they know the four basic tenets of the sales process.

P.S.  If you want to see the finest in tailored suits, then just take a glimpse of the website tailor.com  You will see some of the finest men’s fashions, custom fit, for the perfect look.  Now you see why they say, “The suit makes the man.”


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