I remember the worst night of my life. Before it happened, my father had been in a terminal bout with diabetes for three years. He was also struggling with heart problems and kidney failure; one leg had been amputated, the other leg was ready to go. My mother, a vice president at a large bank, was under a lot of stress due to my father’s illness and her heavy workload. On that terrible night, she started to drive home completely exhausted after working late, and passed out at the wheel of her car.
The car jumped the curb and knocked down a light pole. The jagged edge of the light pole’s stump punctured the car’s gas tank and her car caught fire in front of a Porsche dealer-ship. A salesman and a customer from the dealership dragged my mother out of the car in flames just before it blew up and took down the dealership.
On that evening, the worst of my life, I received the news that not one, but both of my parents were near death. My father was at home with a terminal illness, and my mother was in the burn unit with third-degree burns over 30 percent of her body.
I’m not going to kid you. When I learned about the accident, I was lower than I had ever been. For a few minutes after getting the phone call, I found myself asking questions like: “What am I supposed to do here? How on earth do I respond to this?” But I did know I had to go on. I needed to make some sense of the situation and try to help these two people I loved so deeply. I had to ask some effective questions.
We may think that life doesn’t prepare us for dealing with challenges like the one I faced that day. But I’ve learned, over the years, to accept a subtle truth: God never gives us more than we can handle. So I decided to act as if I already had the tools I needed to deal with this situation. Guess what—I did!
Over the years, in my work as a salesperson, manager, consultant, and professional speaker, I’ve trained myself to ask two questions constantly:
1. What’s the outcome I’m after?
2. Do my actions support the outcome?
In those terrifying moments after I hung up the phone that night, I decided that I had to take the same approach in dealing with the tragic news about my mother. So I asked myself those very questions. First, what did I want to get accomplished? What was I focusing on? I decided to focus on the possibility that everything would be all right. My goal for this crisis was that no matter what happened, both my parents had to live. That was the outcome I wanted. Then I asked myself, “What do I have to do to make that happen?” I didn’t know yet. But I decided to treat this challenge like every other professional challenge that had come my way over the years. Every day, when I make a business decision, I always ask “Is this decision going to help me get closer to my goal?” If it doesn’t, I don’t have time for it!
Two days after the disaster, my family got together. My Aunt Elsa, one of my mother’s sisters, flew in from California. I am very close to Elsa; I guess I’m a little like the son she never had. This lady is a real straight-shooter. Elsa doesn’t mince words!
Picture the scene. The family had all gathered together in my dining room over dinner to try to make some sense out of the terrible problem we faced. Just as we started eating, Aunt Elsa turned to me, her face ashen. She fixed her eyes on mine and said, “Ron, you have to understand something—no matter what happens, your mother comes first. She’s the most salvageable.”
I was stunned! In the back of my mind, I was thinking, “How dare you say that to me? How dare you try to make me choose between one parent and the other?” Although I love my Aunt Elsa dearly and always will, at that moment I wanted to shout at her. But I knew that if I did, she would shut down on me. I would have made an adversary in the family and this was a time when I needed all the help I could get! I knew, deep down in my heart, that there was no way I could handle the situation I was facing all on my own. I needed Elsa. So I asked myself another silent question: “How do I get this person to be on my team and get her engaged with me emotionally so that both of us are looking at this problem in the same way?”
A New Approach
My question gave me an idea. Instead of accusing my aunt or getting angry with her, I said, “Aunt Elsa, no one here wants my mother to live more than I do. I understand that the fear of losing a sister hurts you deeply, just as deeply as the fear of losing a mother hurts me. But let me ask you this: When she wakes up and realizes what’s happened, what do you think her first thought is going to be? If I’m standing there over the bed when she wakes up, what’s she going to say to me?
” Elsa looked at me for a moment and her expression softened a little. Her answer was: “How’s your father?”
“That’s right,” I said. “She’s going to want to know if my father is any worse for what we’ve been through. And if she is assured that the answer is no, might she not be able to use her energy to heal herself faster?
” Elsa nodded her head yes. From that point on we worked like a team. A few months later, my mother went back to work full time; she recovered fully and is alive and well today. My father lived for another year, a year that was a truly precious time for our family.
If I hadn’t aligned my purposes with Elsa’s, it would have been much more difficult to achieve my desired outcome and the results may have been different. How did I do it? Through the right kind of questioning. My question helped get my aunt to her goal while at the same time helping me move toward my goal.
Skill in aligning purposes via questions that get two people pointed in exactly the same direction is what this book is about. In the pages that follow, you will learn about a set of strategies that can bring disparate minds together. This talent can keep families together, build alliances, and reinvigorate any, and I do mean any, sales career. I call it the Titan Principle.
Why You Need It
Competition in the tough global marketplace is relentless and intense. To prevail in this demanding high-pressure and unforgiving arena, people who rely on sales to succeed need much more than a “shoe shine and a smile.” They must offer today’s demanding customers more than great products and competitive prices. To be a victor in this environment, sales-people must position themselves as an extraordinarily invaluable resource. Succeeding in sales means uniquely distinguishing yourself from the herd of “me-too” vendors. It means partnering with customers and providing them with solutions that achieve their goals.
But how, exactly, do you partner with your customer? After all, many customers today are telling salespeople that there seems to be very little difference between what Company A has to offer and what Company A’s competitors have to offer. In fact, countless customers are telling their vendors that if they want to differentiate themselves, they can only do so by giving the lowest price.
Sound familiar? I’ve worked with thousands of salespeople, and the vast majority of them have heard this tiresome comeback far more often than they would like. “Want to be my partner? Drop your price!” What do you have to do to avoid hearing this? Put the Titan Principle to work for you.
Think back to my discussion with my aunt. I didn’t get into an argument about who was more important, my father or my mother. I appealed to something that was a driving purpose for Elsa-getting my mother back to 100 percent as soon as humanly possible. I assumed that goal as a given and shaped my appeal around a destination she was already intensely interested in moving toward. The result? In an instant, Elsa and I became allies.
The Titan Principle is all about the perceived value that builds instant alliances. I can guess what’s on your mind already. You’re probably thinking that your customer’s number one concern is getting the lowest possible price. Wrong! The only reason customers tell you this is that most salespeople give them nothing else to consider! Believe this statement: Before price even becomes a factor, your customer wants other things.
The Titan Principle
At the end of the day, the business will go to the individuals and organizations that provide their customers with what they need in the way that they want it—by identifying exactly where the customer or prospect is going, and by aligning their appeals with an existing, powerful purpose.
First and foremost, your customers are searching for solutions to their challenges, present and future. They are looking for ways to improve their productivity, to become more profitable, to increase their competitive advantage. This goes for everyone. Customers want to increase their level of pleasure or decrease their level of pain. This is a basic law of “sales physics”! Meet either of those fundamental needs, and you’ll move the customer forward to buy your products or services.
How They Want It
I could have told my Aunt Elsa that her strategy of focusing on the most “salvageable” family member was a catastrophic mistake, a blunder that she might end up regretting for the rest of her life. How do you imagine she would have reacted? How closely would such an outburst have aligned with my aunt’s driving purpose? How would verbally attacking her have tied in with the best way for her to achieve her goal?
The problem is that most salespeople concentrate a great deal on what their customers need and very little on how they want it. For example, assume someone comes to you because she needs a new car. If you concentrate only on telling that person that you have the right car, you will not, repeat, will not, distinguish yourself from the competition. If you determine what your customer needs—a vehicle that will get you to work each day—and then go on to gain a keen insight into how she wants it, you will be in a position to differentiate yourself from the competition. (“The Migrato 554-X is more than a way of getting from point A to point B; it’s a statement about the person who’s doing the traveling!”)
What the Person Needs, How the Person Wants It : A True Story
One of the stories I often tell my clients has to do with a visit I made to McDonald’s with my wife and daughter. My wife, Cindy, gave me what I confidently believed was a simple task. She asked me to get her a Quarter Pounder, an order of French fries, and a diet Coke. As I was walking to the counter, she called out four times for me to bring back a lot of ketchup. I don’t know what things are like in your house, but if my spouse asks me to do something four times, I get the hint that I’d better come through.
So I came back to the table with a tray of food and dozens of ketchup packets. Cindy needed ketchup, I got her ketchup! As we were about to eat, Cindy asked: “Where’s the ketchup?” I pointed to the packets on the tray next to her. She responded, “You brought the wrong kind of ketchup.”
Bewildered, I watched as she went to the counter and returned with a little paper cup. That paper cup was so small that two of the dozen packets I had brought would have filled it up. Confused, I asked Cindy to explain what I had obviously missed in her request. She replied, “You ever try sticking a French fry into one of those skinny little packets?”
To tell the truth, when Cindy had asked for a lot of ketchup, the last thing on my mind was wondering where she was going to stick her French fries! To me, a lot of ketchup meant many, many, many packets. When I asked her why she hadn’t asked for a paper cup of ketchup, her reply was, “You should have known!”
You know what? She was right! I should have known—or, at least, should have asked. After hearing her request four times, I should have realized that the ketchup was very important to her. I should have asked her why she felt the need to remind me four times. Instead of asking, though, I gave her what she needed (ketchup) but not how she wanted it.
The ketchup I came back with was perceived as the wrong solution, and if it’s perceived as the wrong solution, it is the wrong solution! Has that ever happened to you in sales? You develop a solution that’s technically “right”—but so far from the situation your prospect or customer faces in the real world that it might as well be “wrong.”
My wife and I are fairly psychic. We know each other so well that we often have the same thought at the same time. So if we know each other so well, why didn’t I know how she planned to use the ketchup? The answer is simple. With our families—as with our customers—we often take our relationships for granted. We think we know everything there is to know. We forget to pay attention to the changes the other person may be dealing with; we forget to look for the challenges that are on their minds.
A relationship with a customer will remain meaningful only if you stay abreast of what the customer wants and how the customer wants it at any given time. Lose track of how your customer wants something, and your competition comes in and steals the business from right under your nose. Why? The competition was vigilant in keeping up with the things your customers needed and how they wanted them! For some reason, salespeople stop being vigilant and start taking things for granted once they secure a business relationship. This is a sure-fire way to lose commission dollars!
I know my French fry story sounds simplistic, but it captures what the Titan Principle is all about. To date, clients implementing the Titan Principle techniques claim they have added several hundred million dollars to their bottom line. In most cases, they have increased market share dramatically. They have each repositioned themselves from being perceived as a vendor of products to a partner who provides immense value. As a result, they have drawn customers away from their competition in droves. Whether their products or services cost hundreds of dollars or thousands of dollars, my clients have used the Titan Principle to create more business than they had ever imagined possible. The same will happen for you when you implement the ideas in this book.
One of Webster’s definitions for the word “titan” is: “Any person or thing of great size or power.” Giving your customers what they need in the way they want it will result in your business securing a position of great size and power in your marketplace.
What Customers Want Besides Price Cuts
Customers are looking for suppliers who can deliver products and services the way they want them. Just-in-time delivery, joint development teams, and sourcing committees are attempts to address this requirement. Customers also want an advocate—one person who is accountable for all transactions and who will accept the responsibility for making sure everything happens as it should. In this day of cross-functional team selling (a fancy term that means involving every part of the business in a sale), customers want a focal person to rely on more than ever. Customers are also seeking vendors who can offer a wide range of solutions to a number of their needs and wants. Reducing the number of vendors they deal with streamlines their process and can reduce their overall purchasing cost.
Think of your own situation. If you crave more free time (and who doesn’t?) you’ll probably agree there is great value to you if a vendor can handle several of your needs instead of just one. By helping you spend less time acquiring needed services, that vendor is giving you what you need in the way you want it. This principle works for anyone who relies on the ability to sell and influence in order to succeed: lawyers and other professionals as well as all types of salespeople, from telemarketers to major account executives.
Airlines, to give just one example, are responding dramatically to this challenge. They are now offering their top frequent fliers concierge services to handle all of their needs and wants. Air-lines are improving their in-flight service because customers who travel a lot have told them they want comfort and luxury. Customers want to buy what they need in the way they want it—the way they feel will be most beneficial to them.
Bill Brooks, one of the world’s top professional speakers and sales trainers, offers his clients what they need in the way they want it. Although his clients need sales training, their needs at any given time are very specific. Bill offers his clients the equivalent of just-in-time sales training. By assessing the values, attitude, behavioral tendencies, and skills of each member of a sales force, he immediately knows which components are of most importance to each sales representative. From a library of more than 60 audio seminars covering every facet of sales imaginable, The Brooks Group delivers to each sales representative only the audio seminars that are crucial in helping that individual attain optimal performance. Bill gives his clients (sales representatives) what they need (sales training) in the way they want it (on topics they need the most help in). He doesn’t bore them or waste their time offering training skills in which they are already proficient.
Many trainers and speakers, including myself, are doing the same thing through customized training programs. People want training centered around the specific challenges they face on a daily basis. They have no time for anything else! That’s why pre-assessment is a key for any successful training program these days.
How Do You Deal with People?
Today, you cannot differentiate your products and services solely on the basis of traditional features and benefits. Differentiation must occur in the way customers are treated during the sales call. In other words, you must connect with prospects and customers, and immediately demonstrate that you are dedicated to providing them with what they need in the way they want it. That’s the best customer-retention program going!
We live in a technological age. This means that, whenever there is honest-to-goodness human interaction, there is an opportunity to shine and separate yourself from the competition. Even if you’re connecting with your customers via e-mail, you still must provide customers with what they need in the way they want it. Otherwise, there won’t be any loyalty to you and your firm!
Old School vs. New School
In the old school of selling, sales representatives were taught skills that dealt more with tasks than with purposes. The following table illustrates their training and level of expertise in the areas of prospecting, influencing, demonstration techniques, and dozens of nifty closing statements or ploys. From my early days selling copiers, I can remember having to memorize a script on how to demonstrate the copier, complete with hand motions!
Old vs. New School
Concentrates more on:
Concentrates more on:
|Concentrating mostly on the skills listed above, you will lack knowledge of your customer’s wants/needs and be forced to use hard closing techniques.||By concentrating on the three skills above, your ability to influence will increase and closing the sale will become easier.|
|Closing is a process, not a one-statement event!|
And who can forget those famous “closing scenarios”? Don’t get me wrong—closing is important and you still need to ask for the order. But in today’s business environment, your ability to close is not solely dependent on how you ask for the order. Closing is not a single-statement event. It is a process that starts the moment you introduce yourself to your customer.
For the most part, the old school sales representative is weak in the areas of qualifying and first impressions. We used to be taught that to make a good first impression, strike up a conversation about the customer’s family, discuss the latest football game, or talk about something relative to pictures hanging on the wall of his or her office. This technique was supposed to help develop a personal relationship between vendor and customer.
The truth is that for most customers today, time is so valuable that if you don’t prove to them right away that you have the potential to become an invaluable resource, you’re history. Customers don’t have the time to chat about social events with strangers or recent acquaintances who are trying to make a sale. If you’ve gone out to dinner with a prospect or customer, of course, social conversations are important. But in the workplace, Titans stick to business.
How do you develop an invaluable relationship in today’s world? The answer lies in the way you attract the interest of your customer and in the kind of qualifying you do early on in the sales call. As we will discuss later on, attracting attention is not simply a matter of making arresting opening statements. Intriguing and interesting questions will also attract the customer’s attention. The right kinds of questions—Titan questions— will dramatically and effectively raise the possibility that you just may be a customer’s invaluable resource.
Selling Ain’t Telling
The mantra of the new school of selling is a simple one: Selling Ain’t Telling! For some reason, salespeople feel most comfortable when they are speaking. We feel we are in control. The truth of the matter is that we are less in control of the relationship when we are speaking. The strength you will need to become and stay a Titan in your industry comes from being attentive to answers to the questions you ask.
The old school of sales concentrated on tasks rather than on an underlying identification of purpose. The emphasis was on how many calls you made and the number of features, functions, and benefits (FFBs) you communicated. The new and old schools of thought are compared in the following table.
Old vs. New School
|Leads with FFBs||Leads with alignment of Purpose|
|Master prospector, below average in first impressions and qualifying||Above average in first impressions and qualifying|
|Has lots of new customers, not a great deal of market share||Concentrates more on profitability and market share|
During a typical sales contact, salespeople communicate between six and eight features of their product or service to the decision maker. The average decision maker remembers only one. In 48 percent of the cases, the decision maker’s memory of the feature will be factually incorrect. In 39 percent of the cases, the decision maker “remembers” a feature the salesperson never communicated.
Source: You’re Working Too Hard To Make The Sale by Bill Brooks & Tom Travisano, Business One Irwin, 1995
The old school of sales concentrated on closing new business, rather than on nurturing existing business in order to provide greater sources of revenue. That’s why many industries, including the telecommunication industry, are suffering from the “churn” syndrome—a constant influx of new customers while existing customers are heading in another direction. Sometimes executives justified the churn concept by telling Statistic themselves they were replacing the lost business by attracting competitors’ customers (through giveaways, premium incentives, or other promotional moves). All this does is reduce the products and services of the companies involved to the level of commodity items—products with virtually no customer loyalty. A customer is loyal only until a better offer comes along.
Imagine what could happen if you created your own positive churn effect by luring away your competitor’s customers. If you did this, not by lowering your prices or by providing monetary incentives, but by acting as the invaluable resource they’ve always needed, what kind of results could you post?
Customers will flock to the side that offers the greatest overall solution—and that’s not always the best price. UPS, Hertz, GE, and IBM are familiar examples of companies that strive to provide products and services in a manner perceived as invaluable by their customers. While these companies do have to offer competitive pricing schedules, their main focus is on meeting the needs and wants of their customers in a distinctive and memorable way, not on being the lowest-priced providers. And yet, these three companies are by all measures considered leaders in their respective industries.
By the same token, your existing customers will be likely to stay put because the relationship they have with you, a trusted professional ally, will be so important that they won’t want to give it up. Your business will only become susceptible to competitive pressures when your competition offers a better overall relationship than you offer.
By relentlessly monitoring your customers’ needs and wants, you will be able to make the appropriate modifications to your service offering and stay ahead of your competition. This is the goal of a Titan: Create a value proposition that attracts new business and keeps existing business. Later in the book, you’ll learn how to make this happen in your own business.
In the new school of selling, the most effective salespeople are concentrating more on purpose than on task. They are more interested in what happens during the sales call than in simply carrying out the act of making the sales call. They concentrate on aligning themselves with their customers’ goals and challenges in order to be perceived as an invaluable resource, someone the customer wouldn’t switch from unless a better overall relationship emerged. The results are an increase in sales from existing customers and an increase in profitability as the buying decision moves away from commodity- based and toward a value-based model. This does not mean, however, that you can charge exorbitant prices and get away with it. You still have to be competitive. But you won’t always have to be the lowest-cost supplier.
It costs much less to increase business from existing customers (some experts calculate as much as 40 percent) than to establish new relationships with new customers. The common thread to succeeding in all of these areas is to put the Titan Principle to work for you.
Build your business by aligning it with your customer’s goals, find out where your customer is going, and give your customers what they need in the way they want it. The Titan Principle works for all sectors in our economy today. In the later chapters of this book, you’ll find out how to make the successes of the Titan Principle a reality in your business.
What “Value Added” Can Mean
A word of clarification on the Titan Principle: When I say “giving your customers what they need in the way they want it,” I do not necessarily mean that you have to go out and change your product or service. In most cases, you can deliver Titan results simply by changing the way you act during the sales call, learning more about your customer, and possibly reallocating some resources to change the way you deliver your products and services. (How much does it “cost” to ask a family member a key question or to check in about the way someone’s going to use a “lot of ketchup”?)
Meet Mike Weinstein, president of Mik-Ro Computer Consultants. Mike has been a tremendous asset to my business in helping us develop our computer capabilities as the business has grown. One of the challenges I had in dealing with Mike was my own heavy travel schedule. With so many things on my plate (sound familiar?), I did not always have time to follow up with Mike to see what steps needed to be implemented next in our data management systems. Mike was very busy as well, and sometimes forgot to follow up on his own.
After I sat down and explained my challenges to him, Mike decided to call me every other week to review where we were, to identify areas that need help, and to question me for ideas on how he can help me further on upcoming projects. In short, he’s been there for me! That’s giving me a service the way I want and value it. No wonder Mike has been working with my company for the last 7 years, despite occasional price pressures from competitors!
In many cases, my clients’ basic products did not change after they asked the questions that solidified the relationships with their customers. All I did was provide the tools to help them understand their customers better, gain their customers’ trust, and provide their products and services the way their customers needed and wanted them. My clients’ success involved positioning themselves as an invaluable resource to their customers. You, the salesperson, entrepreneur, and/or provider of professional services, can make a difference in the area of value-added selling. How you position yourself with the prospect or customer, the information you obtain, and the solutions you provide will determine whether or not you are a Titan in the eyes of your customer!
To sell to customers and be considered a value-added partner, you have to convince them that you are the best one to bring new life to their organization and help them get where they want to be. That’s your role. How do you fulfill it? Read on!
Never look at your customer as a one-time deal.
An article in the Wall Street Journal in 1991 reported that a study conducted by GM said the average American male spends an estimated $400,000 on cars and related expenses over the course of a lifetime. Of course, that number is much higher today. How might you act differently if you viewed your customer as a $400,000 ongoing relationship rather than a $20,000 one-time sale?
What is the potential value you gain if you are viewed and accepted by your customers as an invaluable resource? How much business could you reap if your customer bought all of the products and services he or she could use—from you? How much of that business do you have today? How much are you missing?
The Titan Principle™
The Number One Secret to Sales Success
by Ron Karr