Thursday, August 13, 2020

Detectives Make the Best Salespeople

Have you seen the new series on HBO, Perry Mason?  Yes, it's a re-boot of the classic 1950's original, but it's so much more than that.  Critically acclaimed as "some of the best television ever produced," it's powerful in a variety of ways:  incredible character development, beautiful/gritty representation of 1950's Los Angeles, and the ever-present trial portrayals by some of the best actors in Hollywood.  My wife and I were glued to the screen each Sunday as each episode unfolded.  After the eighth and final episode of the season (I hope they make another season), I couldn't get the character of Perry Mason out of my mind.  The actor, Matthew Rhys, portrays the private detective turned attorney in an unusual way:  dysfunctional, curious, lonely, and a bit pathetic.  The combination is electric as viewers follow each clue along a perilous plot-line.  Mason's behavior reminds me of great salespeople.

In many ways, in order to be a successful salesperson, you must "work a case," hunt down clues, verify alibis, get your hands dirty.  You've basically got a bunch of stakeholders in any sales opportunity that (for the most part) don't want you "sneaking around, learning too much information about their motives."  Unfortunately for us, this is exactly what it needed to really qualify a deal.  If you've read any of my previous blog entries, you'll know that I feel pretty strong about the concept of "Information = Opportunity."  In other words, the more you know about the stakeholders and the company, the better you'll understand whether what you're selling can have an impact on them.  The more positive impact you have, the more likely you can make a strong sales argument.  How do you get that information?  Ask for it?  Sure.  That only gets you so far.  If Perry Mason took everyone at their word, he'd never get to the bottom of a case.  In any investigation, you're going to find stakeholders who just don't feel like providing you the information you really need.  If you're going to make a strong argument to the "jury," you're going to need evidence, and sometimes that means hiding behind a garbage can, or following the suspicious car moving slowly across Ventura Boulevard.

Great salespeople use detective skills to find the critical information they need to show relevance and impact.  Let's outline some of the most important detective skills required:

  • People make business decisions and we need to know about those people (stakeholders) and what's important to them.  People tend to give away clues about what they value if you look closely.  While you can certainly go to somebody's office and see what they have hung on their walls, or the furniture they sit in, you can likely find the real truth about them online.  Great detective-salespeople know that it is a digital world and everyone leaves "digital fingerprints" online.  Whether it's cleanly posted on LinkedIn, or whether it's hidden in a blurry photograph on Instagram, Google probably knows.  You job is to take the time to look.  This time is well invested and as important as any sales meeting.
  • Be a tracker.  Like a bloodhound on the trail of a missing person, sales opportunities leave tracks along the way.  Put me in the middle of a forest and I'm lost forever, but put a skilled tracker in the same place and they will find their way to a river, which will lead them to a town.  Great salespeople-detectives need to learn how to track down the "footprints" of the trail that leads to the sale.  I love these great questions, "When was the last time you had to make a large purchase decision like this one?  What were the circumstances?  Who/what did you evaluate and what did you decide?  Why?"  True, some customers won't answer fully, but they will usually give-away clues as to what happened.  Guess what?  People usually make decisions for large procurements the same way. Most of the time.  Go ask other people.  Detectives call these "other" people witnesses, and they get a "statement" from them.
  • Put the puzzle pieces together.  When great salespeople-detectives have enough pieces of information, they start laying out the evidence on a glass wall, or on the floor.  They turn photographs upside down.  They pull red string from one piece of paper to the next.  They sit.  They think.  Eventually, they create a hypothesis (e.g. sales proposition).  They "work the case" until the "opening statement" settles in the back of their mind.  With enough data and time, you'll have yourself a rock-solid case to present to the customer as to why your products/services make the most impact.
I tried to go back and watch the old black and white Perry Mason TV show, with Raymond Burr.  Sadly, it didn't stand up to the times.  The witnesses always confessed on the stand, and Perry rarely got into a gun-fight or was passed out drunk like the new show!  I wonder if the remake of Perry Mason 50-years from now will frown upon HBO's version?

Get your badge and your gun (or your iPad and Apple Pencil) and go find the clues.

Happy Selling!