What Buyers Really Think of Salespeople

What Buyers Really Think of Salespeople

Sales training is designed to impart specific knowledge, skills and attitudes and to increase a desired behavior in measurable ways. But too often the skills we teach salespeople are not the skills valued by customers.

Sure, you've got to learn how to prospect and persist professionally. You need consultation and presentation skills. And though some sales trainers try to remove the emphasis from closing by calling it order acquisition or confirming the order, you still must get the customer to sign.

I've asked more than 40,000 customers what they want from the salespeople who work with them. Here are the top seven things customers want you to do:

  • Learn about my business.
  • Quit bad-mouthing the competition.
  • Make appointments.
  • Listen better.
  • Follow up after the sale.
  • Treat me like I'll be in business next month.
  • Treat me like a client and not a category of business.

Buyers want customized solutions instead of off-the-shelf fixes. "When you are truly concerned about a prospect's problem, you meet with less resistance to your presentation and you sell with less stress," says sales trainer Larry Wilson. "Buyers can sense when your purpose is to help them." Buyers can also sense when your purpose is to help yourself.

If you want to know how buyers want to be treated, think about how great salespeople make you feel when you're a buyer. See if that treatment gibes with new research about what professional buyers want.

A quick way to get inside purchasing agents' heads is to read what they read. Purchasing magazine targets professional buyers who deal with salespeople like you every day. Purchasing recently asked its readers to nominate the best salesperson.

"Thoroughness and follow-through came out on top this year at 71 percent as the most stellar qualities a salesperson can have," according to Purchasing writer Lisa van der Pool.

"Coming in second at 65 percent was market knowledge and willingness to keep you posted," says van der Pool. "Purchasing professionals spoke about numerous situations when current information led to cost reductions. Several buyers mentioned that part of the reason they so value unsolicited cost-saving information is that it so rarely occurs."

Another quality discussed frequently was a salesperson's willingness to make rushed deliveries. Other valued sales qualities are consistency, time and cost savings, fast handling of problems and innovative ideas. Aligning your sales behavior with what customers care about can go a long way to cementing relationships and making you a preferred provider.

Avoiding the things that buyers dislike is always a good idea too. "Many salespeople are poorly prepared for sales calls, don't know their own product line well -- let alone the business of their prospective customer -- often show up late for appointments and are far too pushy and aggressive for many buyers' tastes," according to van der Pool.

Although lack of follow-through came out as the most irritating quality a salesperson can have, other traits were close behind, including pushiness, back-door selling and basic dishonesty.

Time-pressed buyers won't give you a second chance if you come to the table unprepared. You may have thought your days of homework ended when you left school; however, you now have more homework than ever. Here's one way to streamline that process. Make a list of five things you could do before seeing a buyer and five things you could learn about his business. Here's an example to get you started:

Hit the Web site to learn:

  • Company mission statement.
  • Names of key executives.
  • Recent news.

Read industry trade publications to learn:

  • News of competitors.
  • Product introductions.

Check the stock price to learn:

  • What analysts are saying.

Create your own SOP -- standard operating procedure -- for meeting with a client for the first time and the 10th time. As you update your own database about the customer, you appear more prepared and markedly better than your competition.

You now know what your customers value in salespeople. Just align your behavior accordingly, and you'll create more happy customers and a more reliable income stream.