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Sales Lessons From The Hot Tub

by Karen Jackson | on Apr 12, 2016 | 12 Comments

Our hot tub died in late February. An untimely death given we were still in the clutches of winter, but my family enjoyed 20 soothing years from it so I couldn’t be terribly annoyed.

“Karen, why are you telling me this story?” you ask. Because of what happened when I went to replace it! There are important sales lessons to be learned. Take a few moments to consider the buyer journey….

I immediately called the store that sold us the tub 20 years ago and that has been servicing it all along. After determining that the repair cost was 50% of the original price, it seemed prudent to purchase a new one, so I asked for a quote to replace it. The sales person emailed me a quote and brochure for the model that was effectively the 20 years later version of the original tub. Then there was silence – no follow up call or email.

Without a conversation or email exchange, he’d left me alone to ruminate…. “Do I really want the same thing? If I’m going to fork out the cash, ought I think a bit grander in terms of features and functions? Yes, this brand was reliable for 20 years. But it was pretty basic in terms of features, with a minimal number of jets and few customizable settings. Surely other options exist.”

But the salesperson hadn’t asked me any questions about my needs or desires, didn’t probe about my priorities or my budget parameters. He already “knew” me and offered a solution based on my need profile of 20 years ago. He also took literally my request for a “replacement” hot tub.

Like a watching a B-quality horror movie, I hope you’re already recognizing the signs of disaster for the salesperson.

Much had changed about me as a buyer in 20 years: My body aches more after skiing – hell, after sitting; I have more discretionary income; I now spend more on services and products that bring me peace, joy or time. Equally important, when I bought my first hot tub, I’d just finished building the house it resides at. I was financially stretched after the investment and went for basic, basic, basic on the hot tub. My needs and desires today are entirely different.

Left alone, I decided to research alternatives, and walked into another local provider. Hot tubs are a luxury item and this salesperson understood that completely. (That’s why 20 years later, they’re referred to as “spas.”) “Tell me about….” He said. And then he began to explore my pain points, desires, ideal outcome. He asked me questions, offered product choices that mapped to what he’d heard from me, and relayed a couple of purchase stories about clients similar to my profile. An hour later I walked out with a purchase order and he held my deposit.

It’s a B2C story but it applies to B2B purchasing decisions. In B2B, while the “B” represents business, business buyers are real people with emotional needs and personal agendas. Did you spot the mistakes made by the sales person? These are the important takeaways for your sales people:

• Beware of making assumptions about current customers, especially when selling products / services that are not high frequency transactions. You may think you know them, but things change and they won’t always share.
• Always probe for what has changed in the buyer’s universe since their last purchase.
• Don’t assume their request is what they really need or want; probe for pain points, desires and ideal outcomes just as one would for a new customer.
• Cost is rarely the leading decision factor, unless one is competing in a hyper commoditized space.
• Use closing questions to clearly understand concerns or objections, potential new competition, and the vision match between your solution and the customer’s desired result.
• Gain commitments for next steps. Always.
• Never leave a customer alone with a proposal for an extended period of time. There’s no firm rule on timeline, as scenarios differ based on complexity of solution, but anything longer than 1 week is a mistake.
• Follow up is an important element of the sales cycle, both to retain control of the process and make the buyer feel cared for. If you don’t pay appropriate attention to the customer, another vendor will.

If this seems basic to you, reevaluate. I witness sales people for multi-million dollar companies make these mistakes regularly. The good news is that there’s a solution. The development of sales process and play-books that leverage best practices, combined with training and coaching of the sales team, ensures that your company won’t lose the next hot tub – sorry, “spa” – sale.

P.S. I love my new spa. 🙂

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12 Comments to Sales Lessons From The Hot Tub

  1. Brian Curry
    April 12, 2016 7:53 pm

    Good story Karen. Salesperson blew it. We must have missed the invites over the past 20 years to join you in the hot tub, but look forward to catching up with you and Greg in the new spaaaaah.

  2. Rob Levin
    April 13, 2016 11:20 am

    I’ve been saying for the past few years that, more than ever, companies will win or lose based on their sales and marketing practices. Much more so than how good their product or service is. Your story is a perfect example of why.

    • Karen Jackson
      April 13, 2016 12:39 pm

      I concur, Rob. In many ways the availability of “tools” such as marketing automation and social media have papered over the need for fundamentals. They provide a false sense of reach and connectedness. The only solution is for companies to have structured sales processes, mapped to the buyer journey, and play books for sales people that leverage best practices during that cycle. Only then can we understand where the breakdowns are occurring, how to coach sales people for performance, and ultimately increase close ratios. And, then, there’s marketing. An entirely different – though integrated – bucket.

  3. David S. Oltman
    April 13, 2016 3:22 pm

    An excellent story. Always good to be reminded about importance of follow-up.

  4. Brenda McKenna
    April 13, 2016 4:14 pm

    Karen,
    Thanks for your valuable insight into good sales practices. I always enjoy reading your blogs.

  5. Gary Zander
    April 13, 2016 10:15 pm

    Hey Karen…!
    Part of the problem is many salespeople are simply order-takers – either self-defined or thru lack of training & support by their companies. The best, most successful salespeople, regardless B2B or B2C, are very consultative-oriented – they don’t sell products, they sell solutions.

    It reminds me of the drill bit salesman story, who was telling the customer how his 1/4″ drill bit was made of the finest steel, precisely calibrated, maximum torque & revolutions… frustrated, the customer abruptly interrupts and says, I don’t care about your damn 1/4″ drill bit, all I want is a 1/4″ hole!

    P.S. Starting my cycling season this weekend, so keep the hot tub on and the cooler nearby!

    • Karen Jackson
      April 20, 2016 3:44 pm

      You’re right, Gary. “Solution” selling is the holy grail. My observation working with companies across verticals is that those who struggle lack sales process & playbook. If a company doesn’t have the latter 2 elements, it’s rally hard to coach salespeople to success.

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