It was around 2012, when businesses were starting to recover from the great recession, that sales coach Bill Walton hit upon a realization: it was no longer any good to tell clients what you are selling. Instead, tell them what you’re seeing.
“So many businesses were either price-based, or had some other commodity. ‘I sell printing,’ or ‘I’m a financial advisor,’” Walton says. “We all had to get better at telling our story and how that’s relevant to our clients . . . we got them away from talking about what they were selling and what they had to sharing insights about those potential businesses.”
Walton likes to tell a story about how this technique works with his own business. As a sales consultant he is one of many, offering his services amid a field of well qualified competitors. So when he meets clients, he has to tell them something that demonstrates his value. Once he met with a potential client that used a distributor-based sales force throughout the world. But in researching the company, Walton noticed that they had a direct sales force, rather than a distributor-based one, in Spain. He asked them why that was, and opened the door to a conversation about the company’s shifting sales strategy.
“Then it became a business conversation, rather than a sales conversation,” he says. “Eventually we got some good work with that company.” The business was the result of sleuthing. By researching the company, Walton was able to show he understood the client.
Walton will share his sales insights at the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Independent Business Alliance workshop on Friday, February 24, from 7:30 to 9:45 a.m. at the Springdale Golf Club. For more information, call 609-924-1776 or visit www.princetonchamber.org. Tickets are $25, $40 for nonmembers.
Walton says it is becoming less and less feasible for businesses to compete merely on price. It is no longer enough to offer a service, do it well, and expect to build a successful business. Consumers have become more demanding due to the wide availability of information on any topic, especially on their smartphones. “The average adult looks at their smartphone 10 times a day, at minimum,” he says. “Information abounds. Traditional retailers go by the wayside. We expect delight. We expect good value for our money. There’s no going back to mediocrity.”
For example, a printer can’t just be a printer, but they have to understand their clients well enough to know how to offer them that “delight” that will keep them coming back. Walton says one successful printer he knows has become the go-to guy for businesspeople who have to get something printed perfectly and on short notice. The message from the printer to the client is, “No worries, I know it’s an emergency, I’ve got you covered.”
A financial advisor that Walton works with sets himself apart by billing himself as a transitions expert. Knowing that many potential clients are exiting careers or leaving a business, he offers insight into the process of transitioning and shows that he understands the situation. “Who can argue with transitions?” Walton says. “We’re all in transitions. The message is unique enough to stimulate interest, but it’s not closing off any options.”
Walton says he came across this tactic as a survival strategy for his business. “There are over 3,500 sales training organizations in this country alone, and every one of those is solid and has good content and knows what they are doing. I really feel that businesses are going to have to be so competitive, particularly big businesses that sell business-to-business,” he says. “We’re going to have to find a way to compete other than price.” A rental car company must stand out when everyone else is also renting Chevy Cruzes. The pharmaceutical company must compete when everyone else is offering the same pill.
There are three main points to Walton’s approach. First is to know the business of the person you are meeting with. The second rule is that information — meaning synthesized data and analysis — is gold. Lastly is to offer something uniquely tailored to the client’s position that will help them be successful.
Walton was born and bred to competition. His father was an ex-marine who became a professor of dramatic arts at Western Connecticut State, and his mother was a human resources executive. He was an athlete in high school and played baseball for three years at Connecticut State, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1986 before getting a master’s at Fordham.
He worked in sales and marketing consumer products at Nestle and Tampax before shifting to training and development, working for the Forum Corporation and Manchester Consulting. He founded his own business, ProDirect, in 2000 in New York, moving to Lawrenceville in 2004.
Walton believes everyone in a client-facing position should act as a consultant, ready to show insight into the problems of their clients and offer solutions to them. “Stay focused and focus on that client or prospect,” Walton says. “They should be thinking, ‘Hey, this person isn’t selling me. They are connecting with me. They are asking really good questions, and this is an interesting conversation.’”