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Talking Shop

One thing I've seen time to time is sales people fall into a trap, either it was created internally or through pressure from management, but regardless it's a trap. If it spurns from a CRM system where people feel like they have to justify their jobs, having the pressure to turn every interaction with a customer into a productive one, or just desperation where they "need" that job, or just uncertain what conversations to have. The trap that sales people fall into is simple: always selling. The feeling that every encounter with a current or potential customer is to discuss work and/or the sale at every interaction.

In short: talking shop.

In the oil & gas industry sales is a very unique experience as in our industry relationships do matter, even if it feels that decisions are based on a low-cost basis, in the end it's the relationships that can justify a higher cost or even getting someone to try you/your service out for the first time. People like doing business with people they trust, people they like, people they know that if shit goes downhill that person will do everything they can to make it right This trust isn't built off conversations that always push a product or service, it's built off of relationships that have more depth than what you can offer.

Too often salespeople focus on "closing the deal", or "what the next step is" in the process of getting their service or company to location. But in this focused approach, you are leaving a lot of opportunity to actually build a relationship that creates opportunity for inbound versus outbound selling. When you focus on just closing the deal, that is your goal of a meeting or a lunch. Anything the customer brings up or discusses is dismissed if it doesn't bring you getting a "yes" or a "no" regarding the sale, gets put to the side. The bulldozer approach in the conversation is steering the convo towards the main goal: GET THAT SALE. This is flawed in two parts: 1) you are missing some great opportunity to create genuine connections with the customer in the short time you are in front of them and 2) you are not valuing the customers or your time.

The opportunity you are missing is actually making a friend. People in this industry want to work with people they know and trust. Jumping into work bypasses any real conversations you may have with someone and it also doesn't show a genuine level of caring about that person. The customer could be going through a move, a stressful time, a time in his life where they are proud of something, an upcoming trip, etc. in short: other stuff they probably want to discuss and bring up. I always joke when I sit through lunches with another sales person and it's nothing but work, and I can read the body language of the customer across from us. I feel bad for the customer actually. They probably got to work early, will be staying late, and the one break they have they go to lunch and get "sold to". That's miserable! Lunch should be a break to them, a place for them to unplug. They know who you work for, and what you do...and if not that can be exchanged in a simple email with a website after the lunch.

When I say you aren't valuing the customers time, I mean you aren't taking the opportunity of that encounter or meeting to maximize your ability to develop a relationship. If you are in sales, everything you are doing basically falls into the "can I have a shot at the work" bin. Chances are the customer knows where you work and what your company does. So at the end of the day, and they know there's a chance the "can I have a shot" question will be asked, why waste it during one of the first few encounters with a customer? They are taking the time out of their day to attend a lunch or dinner meeting with you. Time they are taking away from their work and/or families, think how would you want a lunch or introduction meeting to go? Would you want to be shown every bell and whistle, or discuss performance and what you can do for them? Would you want someone (take a financial advisor or insurance agent) to immediately begin listing the benefits you'd have if you'd utilize them for their service?

Probably not. People don't like being sold to, and especially off the bat. What I try and strive for is to get the relationship set first, then discuss work. Once the relationship is there, then discussing work and the opportunity to bid on some work doesn't feel like a sell. It's more of a conversation, and that's what people like: conversations. Think about the last time someone tried to hard sell to you, or just jumped right into the sales process with you...probably pretty annoying and turned you off or would make you hesitant about getting together with that person again. Sure you'd meet with them because you felt nice or were obligated to, but I'll bet it wasn't that productive as the relationship wasn't built yet, and worse probably deterred you from meeting them again.

When the relationship isn't established yet, and people dive into the sales pitch, people feel like they are a product. When people feel like a product or just someone to be sold to, then there is a certain feeling of phoniness to everything (example: "that dude just wants a sale, and doesn't give a shit about me". I've heard it time and time again when I've hung with frustomers (friends that are customers). Even if this isn't true and you do care more, it's the perception of the relationship you are trying to establish with them.

So what can salespeople do when meeting with that new customer they finally got a lunch with? What should the focus of the conversation be on? How to lead the conversation to the "can we get a shot" arena? My answer to this is: don't make work the focal point of the conversation. The goal of these first few meetings should be to understand and get to know who you are sitting across from. What are some common hobbies, activities, people you two may know? What is currently going on in the customers life right now, how are they dealing with xyz? What issues are they having currently with your service line they are experiencing right now? What was their best/worst manager they have ever worked with and why? What show are they binge watching on Netflix? What activities their kids are in/did they do when their kids were the same age?

These types of questions help you develop a relationship and better understand who you are doing business with. Above I listed some random personal questions, with a broad work question that helps you understand who they are, and what issues they are facing in life and at work. From these types of conversations trust can begin to be built, as well as you get a better understanding to what they are dealing with at work. From this initial ground-floor, you can only build on creating a genuine relationship. When the relationship is built the requesting a shot on next well, or trying out a new technology conversations will be a lot more easier and natural.

I challenge all my fellow sales people out there (and everyone as we are all in sales) when getting with their next client, try the 80/20 rule (or whatever its called, haven't read the book). Talk anything but work 80% of the time, and only work 20% of the time. This will provide you the opportunity to actually get to know someone more, increase the chance they will meet with you for the next lunch/meeting, develop a genuine relationship that's not just work which allows for the whole "can I get a shot on the next job" conversation so much more natural and easy. Plus you might make a really good friend along the way...and in this day, friendships goes a long way.

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