Sales Training: My First ‘Ah-Ha’ Moment

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I remember my first sales training session like it was yesterday. I was a Product Manager at the time, and had little clue about anything to do with actual selling skills and no practical experience. I remember the trainer – it was Ken Wax. Ken was (and still is!) an experienced technology sales trainer, and was contracted by IBM to provide sales training to IBM business partners. He was delivering a two-day course, and the vision and program was to teach sales tactics to the technical business partners, such as myself, who were an important part of the overall sales strategy for IBM.

One of his early exercises was a role-playing session to help break the ice and get the class engaged. He started with what was probably the most common objection from potential customers that anyone selling IBM software was facing at the time: “We are a Microsoft Shop.”

This was the Microsoft strategy. If a customer had MS Windows, Active Directory, and other Microsoft technologies, they would consider themselves a Microsoft Shop. Their reasoning was that it was better to standardize on a single vendor for the benefits of integration, management, and support.

Ken challenged the class to provide a strategy and methods on how to overcome this objection. There were many different strategies offered. Someone said you should probe more deeply on specifically which technology they used in order to identify our advantages. Another partner thought they might be interested in piloting something new. And another was to try to uncover weaknesses in their current IT infrastructure that could be addressed with IBM technology.

While they are all standard methods of handling such an objection, Ken had the best answer:

“Great! I think you will be really interested to hear how we work with Microsoft shops….”

Not one of us had thought of that! The point Ken was making was not be to afraid of the objection, but to embrace it, to show potential customers that being a Microsoft Shop fitted well with the IBM solutions. The core strategy here is the word great. The objection had been turned into a benefit. The core issue had been deflated, and the customer was more likely to be open and willing to talk about their needs.

I tend to blend this memory with a scene from the 1994 Harrison Ford movie of Tom Clancy’s A Clear and Present Danger. In one scene, a close friend of the President was killed, and it was discovered he was caught up in the drug trade. The President was concerned about the press, and all advice was to minimize their friendship publicly. The President turned to the Harrison Ford character and asked for his recommendation. Ford said that when a reporter asks the President if he was a friend of the deceased, he should say no, they were not friends, they were very good friends! The idea was to give the press nowhere to go.

In sales, embracing the objection often leaves the customer nowhere to go except deeper into a conversation with you. And in sales training courses, years later, you may only remember a few key points. Which ones do you remember?

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