His eyes were narrow and bloodshot from staying out late and partying too heavily the previous night. A two-day old stubble framed his face. He was wearing a dark-colored t-shirt, which he hadn't tucked in, a pair of jeans and scuffed loafers which had probably never seen shoe polish. It was the second day of my sales academy seminar, and this participant in the program was complaining to the group that his customers were only interested in low price."
I didn't say this, because I didn't want to embarrass him in front of the group, but I thought it nonetheless: "Do you think your appearance and demeanor have anything to do with your customers' reaction? Do you think that you may give them the idea that you are the lowest rung on the pricing scale? Is it possible that you have inadvertently positioned yourself as the Wal-Mart of the industry?”
I remember, as a child, having a sales person call on my family. He had an appointment to discuss a correspondence course for one of us. He drove a big Lincoln, dressed richly, spoke articulately and carried himself with confidence. It wasn't a coincidence that we bought his program without quibbling about the price.
These two scenarios illustrate a powerful and frequently overlooked best practice in the world of sales. Whether you intend to or not, you always create a position your customers’ minds, and that position influences their attitudes toward you as well as the buying decisions that follow. In other words, if you look like you're the low price, your customers will expect you to be the low price.
It follows, then, that if we are going to be effective, professional sales people we ought to give thoughtful consideration to how we position ourselves in the minds of our customers.
Let's begin by understanding the idea of positioning a little deeper. Positioning has long been a term bandied about by advertising mavens and marketing gurus. They define it as the place that your brand or product has carved out in the mind of the customer. It's the pictures that enter the customers' mind when they think of your product, feelings that your product evokes, attitudes they associate with you and the thoughts they have of you.
Chances are, for example, the words "Volkswagen Beetle” evoke a set of responses from you that are different than "Chevrolet Corvette.” You expect a certain degree of quality, price and service when you enter a Wal-Mart that is not the same as your expectations upon stepping inside a Saks Fifth Avenue store.
Billions of dollars are spent every year on carefully crafted impressions by businesses anxious to carve out a valuable position in the minds of their customers.
Alas, if only the same thing could be said of many sales people.
Just like the carefully designed impressions that advertising mediums inexorably chisel into our psyches, so do the repeated sales visits leave a set of expectations, pictures and emotions into the minds of our customers. The position you, as a sales person, occupy is a complex intertwining of the perception of your company, your solutions and yourself. The most effective sales people and sales organizations understand that and consciously work to create a positive position in the minds of their customers.
Creating your position
Let's begin at the end. A good starting point is to think deeply and with some detail about what sort of position you want to create. What, exactly, do you want your customers to think of you? Let me suggest two possibilities: the minimum acceptable position and the ideal position.
At a minimum, I believe your customer should view you as a competent, trustworthy person who brings value to the customer. The customer should believe that you generally know your products and their strengths and weaknesses, that you generally know the customer's issues and that you can be counted on to do what you say you will do. That's the least acceptable position you should work towards. If your customers don't think of you at least in this way, you probably should not be in sales.
At the other end of the spectrum is the ideal position. This builds on the minimum, but adds a specific understanding on the part of the customer of your unique combination of strengths and attributes. It evolves with your relationship with the customer until you occupy a position that is totally and uniquely yours, and that carries with it the expectation that your strengths in some specific and unique way add value to the time the customer spends with you. The ultimate test of the power of your position is the customer's willingness to see you and the resulting preference for doing business with you.
Here's an illustration. If you were shopping for an automobile, a low-mileage late model Taurus would probably provide you with competent, reliable transportation. So, when you think of that specific automobile, it would evoke a set of ideas in your mind revolving around competent and reliable transportation. Now, think of a brand new Lamborghini, and you would understand it to be transportation, but with a unique flair— something above and beyond just reliable transportation. That flair would be a result of the unique strengths of that particular automobile conveyed in a graphic way to your mind.
So it is with sales people. You want to position yourself in your customer's mind the equivalent of the Taurus. But if you really want to carve out a unique, memorable position in your customer's mind, you'd want them to think of you as a Lamborghini.
The question then is, how do you want your customers to think of you? Once you articulate a specific picture, you can then start to build that position.
Your position in the minds of the customer is a powerful and subtle component of an effective sales person's approach. Consistently working at building a positive position will pay dividends for years.
Dave Kahle is one of the world's leading sales authorities. He's written 10 books, presented in 47 states and ten countries and has helped enrich tens of thousands of sales people and transform hundreds of sales organizations. Sign up for his free weekly Ezine. Check out the Sales Resource Center for 455 sales training programs for every sales person at every level. You may contact Dave at 800-331-1287, or firstname.lastname@example.org.