SI Review: November 2012


Power Seller

Stop Selling, Start Telling

Why the old sales approach fails to serve the client’s best interests

By Jay Sage

With a nod to Linda Richardson’s great book, Stop Telling Start Selling, we as sales professionals are at yet another evolutionary fork in the road. Generally speaking, if you’ve had any formal sales training in the industry in the last decade you were probably taught to:

  • Build initial rapport by taking notice of what is in the office and disarming the prospect with targeted small talk.
  • Ask several open-ended questions and probe for pain points.
  • Artfully get the prospect to realize and articulate that pain.
  • Allow the prospect to be drawn to your solution offerings after you’ve built a rapport.

OK, there may have been a few more steps in there somewhere, but the idea is, and has always been, to get the prospect talking while you simultaneously sell them on why your solution is better than your competitors’.

But the landscape today is radically different. Buyers of staffing services are increasingly more sophisticated and better educated on product and solution offerings. They’re also under extreme financial pressure, looking to bundle services and align with a larger entity or purchasing organization to leverage their spend. It is more difficult than ever to get time on the decision maker’s calendar and once you are there, there certainly isn’t time to go through the old game!

Start Telling. Don’t get me wrong, we have to ask some questions in order to get a feel for what is happening inside the prospect’s organization, but we have to be prepared to TELL the prospect what they should be considering as a solution. In addition, we should be ready to offer examples of where else inside their industry it has worked — or perhaps why being an early adopter of a groundbreaking offering is the way to go! Buyers need to be coached on the solution and guided through what they can expect at each juncture along the way. We should educate them on how the solution will impact all of their stakeholders and not oversell. Asking too many “probing” questions early in the process can actually illustrate that you may not have the level of experience that they are looking for.

It is still critical to establish rapport, but it is more critical to demonstrate a level of expertise in both the prospect’s industry, as well as in our own. For example, it is not really enough anymore to know something about logistics for your meeting with the COO of a logistics company to discuss a talent acquisition strategy. The successful sales professional today is armed with at least a basic knowledge of what challenges COOs in logistics are facing locally, regionally, nationally and globally. That knowledge base is really not a “nice to have” anymore — you need to have it. The great news is that access to industry-specific information is incredibly easy to find.

ABCD. Some may remember Alec Baldwin’s mantra in the movie Glengarry Glen Ross: ABC — Always Be Closing. I like the idea of ABCD — Always Be Consuming Data (but still BE CLOSING)!

People do business with people they like, this much is timeless, but what has dramatically changed are our target prospects’ purchasing habits, scope of work, financial constraints and availability. This does not mean that we sit and wait on RFPs to hit our desk because our prospect’s company was acquired and they are now global and have a 100-person procurement team. No. The battle isn’t over, nor is it that easy. Getting in front of that RFP will take talent, skill, intelligence and of course the occasional charm. Reassess the tools in your tool belt, demand more of yourself and your sales staff and go TELL your prospect what they should be doing to help get them to where they want to be. It’s not an even playing field anymore. But to me, that’s a good thing.

Jay Sage is vice president of business development at Randstad Healthcare. He can be reached at


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