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Five Research Findings to Help Refine Your Sales Approach

When it comes to identifying the qualities and techniques that separate high-performing salespeople from the rest, you need a solid understanding of what your customers appreciate and look for in a sales approach.

In a recent digital article, Steve W. Martin, author, and instructor at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business, summarizes some of the key findings his research has uncovered relating to how customers perceive the salespeople they meet, and the circumstances and factors that play a role in vendor selection and buying decisions. The data is based on over 230 respondents to a 76-part survey. Here are five key findings.

1. One sales style does not fit all
• 40% of participants prefer a salesperson who gathers the appropriate information by listening to and analyzing details in order to come up with a “solution to solve a specific problem.”
• 30% prefer a salesperson who cultivates a strong, trusting relationship because they will take care of their needs over the long term.
• 30% value salespeople who are comfortable challenging “their thoughts and perceptions and then prescribe a solution that they may not have known about.”

Some department-specific trends were also noted. For example, over 50% of customers in marketing and IT departments preferred the informed sales approach that matches the solution to the need, while less than 20% in accounting and IT want to be challenged.

The author suggests that the buyer’s feelings about conflict might play an important role. Martin explains: “Seventy-eight percent of participants who preferred a salesperson who would listen and solve their specific needs agreed with the statement: ‘I try to avoid conflict as much as I can.’ Conversely, 64% of participants who preferred a salesperson who challenges their thoughts disagreed with the statement and are comfortable with conflict.”

2. One is the most influential number
The survey found that 90% of participants agreed that among the members of any group tasked with evaluating a purchase decision, there is “always or usually one member of the evaluation committee who tries to influence and bully the decision their way.” Additionally, it was noted that this person successfully persuades the group to select the vendor he or she wants 89% of the time.

Considering this finding, salespeople could focus efforts on identifying key influencers and winning them over rather than trying to win over the entire committee.

3. Big name isn’t always better
• 33% of participants said they prefer the best-known brand or supplier with the highest functionality and cost.
• 63% indicated they prefer to select a brand that is fairly well known with 85% of the functionality at 80% of the cost of the big name brand.
• 5% said they would select a relatively unknown brand with 75% of the functionality at 60% of the cost.

Responses to this section of the survey demonstrated some industry-based difference. According to Martin, “[t]he fashion and finance verticals had the highest propensity to select the best-known, top-of-the-line product, while manufacturing and health care had the lowest.”

4. Price fixation: Three categories to think about
Based on survey responses when participants were asked to respond to different pricing scenarios, Martin was able to categorize buying decisions based on price and came up with three categories:
• Price conscious buyers – product price is a top factor in the purchasing decision
• Price sensitive buyers – price is secondary to things like functionality and vendor capability
• Price immune buyers – price is only an issue when the solution or product is priced considerably higher than the other options being considered.

When Martin further analyzed the results by industry, only the government sector landed in the price immune category, while banking, technology, and consulting were considered price sensitive and manufacturing, health care, real estate, and fashion were price conscious.

5. Sell it with a friendly and proficient approach
Participants were given three options and asked who they would rather do business with:
• A professional salesperson with thorough product knowledge, but not necessarily someone you connect with personally
• A friendly salesperson who is likable and proficient in explaining their product
• A charismatic salesperson who you truly enjoyed being with but is not the most knowledgeable about their product

Not surprisingly, the friendly salesperson was the top selection across all industries. Media and fashion selected the charismatic salesperson more than most, and the highest percentage of professional salespeople was selected by manufacturing and health care industries.

There are a multitude of different factors that play a part in purchase decisions, many of which are steeped in the complex mysteries of human nature and personal preference. Tuning into your customers specific needs and perceptions will help inform a successful sales approach.

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