By Bill Hellkamp

The great salesperson, it has been said, can “sell iceboxes to Eskimos”! This implies that to be successful in sales, you must be able to convince people to buy things they don’t need. While this might be a profitable strategy for television hucksters and used car salesmen, it’s not an effective position for someone who plans to build a successful customer base. For those professionals, it is imperative to thoughtfully match your products or services to the true needs of the client. This will ensure successful transactions and long-term business connections.
Not only will matching your advantages to the needs of the client equal satisfied customers, but it will also differentiate your product or service from those offered by your competitors. Of course this means that you need to know what your advantages are in order to help the client understand them. Just a few weeks ago I was training a group of salespeople on this subject and I asked them (without warning) to give me three advantages they had over their competitors. Frankly, I was stunned by the silence that followed! It took about a minute before the group gave me a couple of advantages and they never came up with a third one. A room of forty salespeople should be able to come up with ten advantages immediately. Yet they wonder why their customers see their product as a commodity. You must be able to differentiate your product or service through marketplace advantages. Here are some important steps to take:

business mazeDetermine the value you bring to the client.

Get together with a group of people from your sales and marketing teams and see how many unique advantages you can come up with. Here are some questions you can use to prompt the group:

1. What have your customers told you that they like?
2. What are the strengths of your competitors that you share?
3. What are the weaknesses of your competitors?
4. What do you like most about your product or service?
5. What qualities would you most like your clients to associate with your product/service?

Organize the key values into categories.

In all fairness to the sales group I mentioned earlier who could only come up with two advantages for their product, it can be hard to recollect these advantages during the pressure of a sales conversation. Therefore, it is important to categorize these advantages in a way that they can be more easily recalled and used when necessary. Here are some examples of groupings that might be helpful:

• Customer Service
• Unique Payment Options
• Market Leadership
• Product Exclusivity

Gather testimonials that represent the key categories or values.

Too many salespeople will merely mention their advantages in a list of benefits and leave it up to the prospect to connect how they will be useful for their situation. But a professional salesperson will choose the most appropriate advantages and then bring them to life with customer stories or testimonials which illustrate the true value the client will receive. As for most of us, we won’t recall these examples during the interview if we haven’t prepared them in advance. Additionally, each individual salesperson won’t necessarily have a great story for each advantage. So work as a group to identify and classify these testimonials so they are available when you want to use them with a customer.
Develop interview questions that match customer needs to your advantages.
Finally, develop questions that lead the client to desire those advantages that are unique to your organization. It is more effective if the customer tells you that they want a feature (exclusive to your product or service) than for you to tell them they should have it. For example, if my product is more reliable than my competitor’s, I would ask a question like, “What would happen if these were to fail during use?” This will encourage my prospect to discuss issues of dependability. As with the stories and testimonials, these questions won’t come to mind during the interview. I must prepare them in advance.
You might think that this is a lot of work for one or two sales, but experience has taught us that selling is a profession that must be worked at. By understanding your market advantages and being able to use them effectively in a sales interview, you will not only win more deals but you will win the bigger deals as well.

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