Value-Added Resellers, Are You Asking Enough Sales Questions?
A VAR is Not A Mind Reader
If you’re a Value-Added Reseller, you know you’re on a specialized career path. But you also know that many core competencies are built around that more universal skill set, sales. And one of the most frequently undervalued sales skills in any industry is the ability to ask insightful questions. For some, sales questions are instinctive, while others formalize them as “the discovery process” or “S.P.I.N.,” but for many, they’re underutilized.
What if you already have the perfect solution for a customer’s needs, but they can’t articulate those needs yet? Maybe a handheld point of sale would be just the right fit to make a retailer’s lines flow smoothly—but the owner hasn’t identified their problems with countertop POS yet. A reseller is not a mind reader, but a reseller can ask more questions.
An Old “Teaching Story” Makes A Point
Business would be easier if everyone had perfect communication skills, but sometimes making up those deficits falls on the salesperson’s shoulders. There’s a corny old story that gets passed around. In it, an overly-eager used car salesman has dragged a customer across a sweltering hot car lot too many times.
After looking at several models, the salesman asked the customer to be more specific.
“I want practicality. Something inexpensive, with great fuel mileage,” the customer replied. So the salesman walked him to a boxy little European economy model that looked like a refrigerator.
“No, no, no,” the customer said. “I obviously want more comfort than that. And I don’t trust the crash ratings.” Better comfort, better crash ratings. Okay. So the salesman walked him across the lot again to a larger, more plush car with loud, tacky neon customizations.
“No, no, no,” yelled the customer, “I want something classy, and with better cup holders. And no sunroof!”
What Does This Story Teach Salespeople?
This story can go on for several more rounds, until the customer has eventually articulated every must have and would be nice. The frustration becomes more humorous as the listener discovers more and more traits that had yet to be identified—and it can really crack up a table of colleagues if told correctly! (One fun way to tell it is to slowly identify a listener’s own car model.) But it’s not just a joke . . . it is a teaching story for salespeople, including VARs. It demonstrates that we cannot confidently move forward in the sales process without taking note of each important customer concern.
The storytelling component summons up visceral emotional cues of “hot, sweaty, unnecessary trips across blazing asphalt” to make a point stick in the listeners’ memory. Proposing solutions without a thorough understanding of needs is a waste of everyone’s time, energy, and—in this case—clean undershirts.
Fortunately for VARs, business is conducted indoors. Unfortunately, POS components are harder for customers to understand than, say, clothing or furniture—which means VARs are operating at a more complex level. One tool for identifying some of the complexities is to break down customers’ needs into categories.
Three Types of Customer Needs
Customer needs can be categorized into three main types:
- FUNCTIONAL – Tangible needs for a task-related/logistical function
- SOCIAL – How purchases connect to their self-image or relationship to the outside world
- EMOTIONAL – How they want purchases to make them feel (responsible, bold, trend-setting)
In our story, the buyer’s desire for fuel efficiency is functional, but his distaste for loud neon is about social perception. Most VAR sales are concerned primarily with functional needs, but that doesn’t mean other influences can be ignored.
Sometimes, improved awareness of a merchant’s emotions is the key to completing a sale. Have they been putting off a needed systems upgrade because they’re anxious about changing day-to-day routines? Are they grumpy about perceived inconveniences? Are they being “penny wise and pound foolish,” hesitant to make investments that will save money in the long run? Understanding their reasoning will help to address objections.
Resellers have a number of variables to juggle, even on a light day. It can be tempting to take immediate surface-level answers as final and move forward to the next task. But this little car sales anecdote reminds VARs to go deeper, ask more probing questions, and help identify needs that customers might not even be aware they have.
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