Things are just different right now in Sales Land. Understatement, right?
The title of my new book, Selling Forward, is 100% committed to re-inventing your sales game in a pandemic fatigued world. While I was writing the new book, which was originally called Post-Pandemic Sales Strategies, I got COVID, and it was truly terrible. And we all began to realize that COVID wasn’t completely going away. That instead, it would become a season going forward, like “COVID season”. The business landscape is simply different than it used to be.
As a result, we’re dealing with so many buyers that are emotionally challenged, that are inbox-dazed, they’re virtual meeting-bored, and they’re not tolerant of a whole lot. And that’s why my model of recommendation-based selling seems to really be resonating for a lot of salespeople that are out on the street selling right now. So let’s talk briefly about it in this article. (For full details, please buy Selling Forward. A lion’s share of the proceeds from the book will be donated to The Golden Harvest Food Bank.)
I think you’ll find that you can move to this model, no matter what you sell. I do a lot of advertising sales, event sales, and sponsorships. But whatever you’re selling, I believe you’ll find that recommendation selling is where it’s at.
To better illustrate what I mean, let’s take a look at the three types of selling that I’ll mention in this blog.
No. 1 is transactional-based selling. This is where you’re selling one-off, two-off kinds of things, and where you’re calling somebody and they can make a decision moderately quickly. This is a fast way to sell, but can feel a bit shallow feeling.
No. 2 is relationship selling. You go out on a sales call, do a discovery meeting and learn a prospect’s needs, goals, and desires, and you go back to the office to create a proposal. Then you get ahold of the client and schedule a time to review the proposal with them, or present it, and then they have to take it to their boss to make a decision on it—in other words, they’ve got to think about it. Then, you have to go back and play the follow-up/ghosting game, and so on. This is a slower way to sell, but feels fulfilling.
No. 3 is what I call recommendation-based selling. It has similarities to transactional selling, but in this model we’re trying take what we know from our past experiences from our successful clients, and in “relationship selling”, and simply speed up the total sales process.
The basis of recommendation-based selling is going to a client and saying, “We’ve worked with somebody like you before. Using that knowledge we can save you time and money by telling you what does and was does not work. Let’s leverage that knowledge, marry it to your goals, and create some winning recommendations for you.”
What I’m noticing with recommendation-based selling is it’s just faster. But also, since we’re dealing with people who are pandemic-fatigued, it doesn’t require as much thought from them. It doesn’t require a ton of logic. It doesn’t require a long discovery meeting. Prospects seem to appreciate the approach.
Monetate came out with a study showing that 70% of people make decisions based on recommendations. And universally, when you look at the most trusted form of advertising out there—Nielsen tracks it—the most trusted form of selling is recommendation-based.
So what that means is, more than likely, people are going to buy things more quickly if you move to a recommendation-based format.
So let’s get one step closer on this idea. How do you propose something to a client if you don’t know their needs, desires, and wants? Well, you’re going to base your knowledge on past clients and past client scenarios. When you’re meeting with somebody, it’s highly likely you’ve had a customer like them before. It’s rare to meet with a client and they tell you something that shocks you. Right? So, do we really need to ask them all the “normal” sales questions like what’s your budget?
The idea behind recommendation-based selling is that, by nature, humans don’t necessarily trust other humans. People just don’t. We enter a conversation with them and our trust factor is zero. It’s kind of our base. We name drop other companies that we have worked with. We talk about them positively and ethically. We increase client trust by using the social proof of our other successful customers to drive the sale and conversation forward.
So, one of the things I like about recommendation-based selling is that it’s different from the old-school model, where you’re building things in more of a custom format like, “What are your needs? What are your goals? What are your desires? Let me build you something.”
And while that approach is fine, I’ll restate it: I’m finding that it simply takes a long time. Whereas, when I’m meeting with someone and discovering their needs, their goals, and their desires and I’m recommending things based on other successes that we’ve had with other customers, there’s a higher level of trust with our prospects and clients. And since there’s a higher level of trust because others have gone before them, that higher level of trust tends to drive the decision faster.
Now, I recognize that some of you reading this aren’t in the business that I’m in; I’m in advertising sales sector. So real estate sales, for instance, is going to be different. Insurance is going to be different. However, let’s just say you’re selling insurance, as an example. If I can say to John Smith, “Well, Suzy Brown did this insurance plan with me, and she’s been very happy with this plan. It’s worked for her family, her cousin, her mom,” whatever, it makes the next person feel more comfortable because the trust factor is dramatically increased. So it makes it easier to sell her and to tweak a plan for her. And it makes it easier for her to buy it.
Remember, most people don’t mind buying things, they just hate being sold.
So let’s think this through, and let’s go back to the role of media sales. And let’s just say, for example, that you’re meeting with a jeweler. And the jeweler says to you, “Oh, I don’t know exactly what I need to do, but I’m trying to get this all figured out.” And you respond, “So we’ve worked with jewelers like you before, and this is what we’ve learned. Most jewelers do these 3-4 things with us, and they get good results from it. So let’s build from there and use what we’ve learned so that you don’t have to do a test with us.”
You can build this type of relationship quickly—because it comes with trust that another business owner like them has already done something with you, and it has worked out well.
Recommendation-based selling is built on implied trust through social proof.
So, what’s the rub in all this? I contend that there are really two kinds of salespeople out there—there are hunters and there are farmers. Are you a hunter? You like to go out and get the kill and bring deals back to the office and drop it off. Or are you a farmer, and you like to nurture the sale from seed to harvest?
By nature, recommendation-based selling is a little foreign to the farmer. It’s a little foreign because farmers like to really take their time and nurture things and really build relationships. But here’s the thing I’ve noticed during COVID: as we move into more of a post-pandemic situation, by degrees, we’re dealing with pandemic-fatigued individuals. And I’m noticing that they’re super emotional. They’re not making decisions based on logic. They’re making a lot of decisions based on how they feel about something. Recommending products and using people that have come before as a basis for a level of trust, then, plays into that emotional model. And when I can play into that emotional model, I’ll almost always do better with recommendation-based selling.
So, if you’re a hunter, it’s almost like recommendation-based selling is where it’s at. It’s fast and you probably kind of like it.
It’s those of you out there who feel like you really have to have a relationship with somebody before you can sell them something that may balk at recommendation selling. SPARXiQ tells us that 40% of buyers will have already made a decision about what they’re going to choose before they ever contact us. So we’re not the sole resource for information anymore. And this means we’ve got to come to the conversation with recommendations ready to go.
Remember, if you’re going to stay alive in this business and you’re going to be vibrant in this business, you’ve got to grow. And part of growing is learning, trying, and testing things. And here’s my promise to you: I will never, EVER ask you to do something that I’m not currently doing out there in Sales Land. And what I’ve done is I’ve shifted from relationship-based selling to recommendation-based selling. And what I’m learning is that I can actually build relationships faster under the recommendation model.
I’m talking about all this in my new book that I mentioned, Selling Forward, available on Amazon and other outlets.
Friends, never forget. If sales was easy, everybody would be doing it, and they’re not. We are the chosen few. And we’ve found a career that will feed our families for a lifetime.