Clever sales people chat, listen and glean information rather than demand it

 

I recently decided to move house, bracing myself for one of the big three stress scenarios, right up there with bereavement and divorce. What awaited me was a poor customer experience – unnecessary automation and the unwillingness of staff to listen.

Poor salesmanship is alive and kicking harder than I could ever have imagined.

As I remained undecided between two different areas, a little initial research was sensible. That’s where I made a big mistake. I completed a generic form on one of the big online house sale portals.

Feeling smug, I took the time to edit the email that would be sent to estate agents from the form, filling in some pretty specific details of what I would be looking for. By 9am Monday morning, not only was my email full, but my phone was ringing off the hook with enthusiastic agents.

August is always quiet in property and there have been sufficient scare stories hitting the headlines to ensure the market is quieter than usual. That they need to drum up business, I totally understand.

But I was surprised to find myself sent properties from totally different areas, as if they wanted to talk me out of the basic requirements I wanted. Good salesmanship is one thing, but if someone wants a town, they are unlikely to replace this search with rural and vice versa. The good salesman also recognises a total non-match.

I was amazed by the standard of basic training and procedures that were lacking with – not all – but a high proportion of agents. Interestingly, I received very few GDPR confirmation requests. Surprising and a relief, till a couple of companies passed me to pushy finance companies to cold call without my permission.

There were several examples of how automation should not be used. Auto-responses with unclear instructions that generally re-directed me to their web site to register, left me as a client re-doing work I had already done.

Many sent a barrage of unsuitable properties, based purely on price.  This wasted my time and clogged up my mail box.  I wrote back to one who was being particularly heavy handed with the mass emails, asking them to adjust, only to get yet another generic emailed reply telling me to go the their web site and re-register.

It quickly became clear that few had read the additional details I added. Matching a product with their customer was apparently of little interest.

Others who called me were obsessed with completing in-house forms. Some questions that either should not be asked at all or only in the right way. One agent rang me to ask my date of birth and when asked for a reason could only come up with: “ We ask for it on our forms”.

A few asked me what my motivation was for buying in the area. Any good sales person knows that understanding what motivates a buyer is the key to a sale. But they equally know that motivations are emotive, personal and even sometimes unknown to the buyer themselves. They take time and relationship building to reveal.

Only in a very cut and dried case – perhaps a re-location for work – can this be reduced to facts. Asked either abrasively or with a clear level of dis-interest (and I certainly had both) this question can be highly intrusive. Clever sales people chat, listen and glean the information rather than demand it for a form.

Even the most basic rudiments of telephone selling and customer service escaped many of the companies that contacted me. My name appeared to be a major stumbling block. Many pronounce it wrong.

Another absently called me by a totally different surname and despite me saying that I was looking for a house in the area, was too afraid of saying he was wrong to pick up the opportunity, but instead insisted he had the wrong number.

Getting someone’s name right is just basic good manners. But equally no-one minds if you call, then apologise and say you are not sure of the pronunciation and could the person tell you. Humility goes a long way. Instead, most people fail to listen even when corrected and continue to use the wrong name.

When I train my sales team, I always say that listening is one of the most important if not the most important skill there is. Many of these callers talked over me; rude to start with.

One of my pet peeves in selling is a caller opening with “How are you?” on an introductory call. They do not know me. Half of them do not even wait for the response. All they achieve is introducing themselves as poor salesmen, who are spinning lines, rather than speaking authentically, as one human to another.

Absolute anathema to their listeners and unacceptable in this day and age where authenticity is such a vital part in customer relations.

There have been some really good, charming, efficient, helpful agents I have spoken to. But regrettably, poor salesmanship is alive and kicking harder than I could ever have imagined. We hear so much about the slow property market and the blame of governments, Brexit uncertainty and so on.

What we don’t hear is that there are an awful lot of companies out there who have not the first clue as how to sell and only a handful deserving to survive. And I am sure that this lack of basic sales skill is not restricted to estate agents.

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