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Sales Lessons from Legends: Thomas Watson Jr. on Setting Quotas for Salespeople

How Do You Create Transformative Ideas that Lead to Greater Sales?

While Nobel Prize winners spend a lifetime teasing out previously unknown ideas, salespeople tease out orders from people who previously had no idea that they would buy the salesperson’s product or service.

What is an idea?

The American philosopher Mortimer Adler once directed a team of experts, who wrote two books containing the 102 greatest ideas that shaped our world. Adler’s team rated the books of great minds from Aristotle to Albert Einstein and extracted all the great ideas they had come up with in their lifetime. Adler defines an idea as an “object of thought that we cannot touch, or perceive with our senses, but that, as thinking individuals, we can discuss with one another.”

The interesting part is that it is the quality of our conversation that either shrinks a great idea or enhances the idea to the next level, where it becomes transformative. Transformative ideas contain the key to sales success.

Note: Great salespeople engage customers in mind-expanding conversations.

Great ideas begin with great questions

Werner Heisenberg, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1932, once said, “Nature does not reveal its secrets. It only responds to our method of questioning.” A salesperson’s method of questioning can determine the success or failure of a sales call. Customers appreciate a salesperson who leads them to think and causes them to critically examine their situation through the lens of a great question. While good salespeople persuade their customers with great (but often prepackaged) answers, great salespeople ask great questions that transform the customer’s position from a sales target to a cocreator of the sale.

Note: Create a list of your 10 best sales questions

Questions lead to a chain of ideas

Let’s assume we’re engaged in a thoughtful conversation about current events. For example, we might discuss a news item we both read about investors going after Bernie Madoff’s family to recoup some of their losses. Without a doubt, our conversation will reveal our understanding of what’s good or bad, and it may cause us to review what’s right and wrong. The chain of ideas could lead, through artful questions, to a better understanding of fairness, justice, liberty, or equality.

While a conversation about current events leads to a chain of ideas that helps us better understand the world we live in, a great conversation with a prospect will help us understand the customer’s world. As a result, we will be able to generate better ideas for creating customer value with our solutions.

Note: Map out your 10 best questions for your next sales call.

What do you do after you've asked your great question?

Asking great questions can often lead to great responses from customers. But here is the big challenge: How do we process the customer’s response? By listening actively, we will get much closer to the great selling idea that will add value to the customer’s business. Listening to the customer is similar to catching a baseball. It takes an agile mind and body to catch a ball thrown by a professional player. One customer may throw a curveball, another may send a fastball, and yet another could launch a knuckleball. The goal of active listening is to catch more balls, which ensures complete understanding of the customer’s true situation.

Five qualities that can lead to great selling ideas

Top salespeople develop the five qualities listed below and, in turn, come up with the great selling ideas that lead to more sales.

1. The ability to recognize and understand a great idea during a conversation with the customer. This is the starting point for all good selling. Top salespeople speak two languages: the customer’s language and the company’s language. In essence, great salespeople are like ambassadors who speak the language of the host country and their own county.

2. The ability to analyze an idea. Top salespeople will look at a customer’s problem from many different angles with the help of smart questions. Examples: “What would be the cost of doing nothing? If it turned out that we found a solution, what would be the impact on your business?”

The salesperson’s job is to extract enough information from the prospect to be able to define the core problem and establish a value for the solution.

3. The ability to objectively compare one idea with another. Top salespeople will lead the conversation to an observation point, at which the customer can objectively compare where the path leads by adopting solution A or pursuing solution B. Comparisons are near impossible when salespeople are unable to appraise a situation objectively.

4. The ability to place the ideas on a map that lead to the best solution. Great salespeople are like mapmakers, and they show their customers where they are on the map, how far they can go, and how to get there.

5. The capacity to assign a value to each idea. Top salespeople will break down the value of the final solution into concrete numbers: time saved, money saved, troubles avoided, reduction in cost, gains in productivity, etc.

The big idea is not to prepackage ideas before visiting the customer, but to engage the customer and then co-create the idea that you placed on the map before the call. In the ideal scenario, your customers will end up thinking that it was actually their idea that created the solution. The smart salesperson will always give the customer the credit, while he or she gets the commission.

Expose yourself to more great sales ideas!

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