- October 10, 2004
The Real Benefit Exercise
By Scott Sargis
Published in Staffing Industry Review
Most will agree that interviewing is a sales and marketing presentation whereby the candidate who often gets the job is the one most adept at promoting themselves. However, many contradictory books, exercises, videos and tools exist which claim to be the best at preparing you for interviews. How do you know which is best? Maybe the most qualified advisors are top salesmen with demonstrated sales track records. That was our feeling at Strategic Search Corporation when we commissioned a leading management consulting firm to study the behaviors and traits of top salesmen in closing the deal. As part of the study, we wanted to isolate those behaviors that were easiest to replicate by people like you with little or no sales experience. The result was the Real Benefit Exercise™.
We first interviewed and observed top salesmen in various industries. We focused on the top 5% of each company's sales force. Since sales are more of an art than a science it was hard to isolate exact rules that extended to a wide range of industries. However, we did uncover ten common traits:
- Strong product/service knowledge is paramount. As a result of that knowledge, top salesmen are able to effortlessly present their product/service and quickly address a multitude of customer questions and concerns.
- Strong customer knowledge is a must. Knowledge of all levels the organization from first level administrative personnel to the CEO. Detailed research of the customer's business model, organizational structure, constraints (e.g. political dynamics that they operate within) and hot buttons are essential in closing the deal.
- Knows the competition. Does not go into a sales presentation blind. Knows how their product/service stacks up versus competitive offerings.
- Employs the consultative approach to selling. Poor salesmen try to "ram their product/service down the prospect's throat." Good salesmen view the customer as a partner including: a) asking a lot of questions to determine their needs b) addressing all their needs and concerns and c) developing and recommending solutions that best meet their requirements.
- Makes the right contacts in the organization. Networks at key industry functions and events to become familiar with key decision makers that are crucial in closing the deal within the organization.
- Targets presentations. Good salesmen sell to the particular needs of each customer they are meeting. Furthermore, they try to focus on decision makers not "time wasters."
- Uses the K.I.S.S. (i.e. Keep It Simple Stupid) principle to selling. Concentrates only on what the customer needs to hear and does not over sell. Believes that less is more.
- Applies sizzle not just facts. Focuses presentations on benefits instead of details. Also takes into account a particular customer's needs when highlighting benefits.
- Is very persistent. Realizes that a decision maker may have had a bad day and the same presentation may work another time.
- Sprinkles trial closes (e.g. "how does that sound?") throughout the presentation to gauge the customer's level of interest. Once the customer is ready, they "go for the close" instead of continuing to sell.
Once we determined the top ten attributes, our next step was to develop an exercise that could easily be implemented by people like you with little or no sales experience. Because we cannot magically turn you into a top salesman (and I doubt you want to become one), we won't attempt to capture all aspects of a good salesman's repertoire. Instead will focus on only those attributes that are easiest to copy and will have the maximum impact for you in the interview. The result is the three-step Real Benefit Exercise™. We chose this name because (as mentioned in characteristic #8) sizzle sells and good salesmen talk in terms of benefits to the customer. The interview process is no different. Instead of considering hiring managers as interviewers, we recommend you view them as customers. We also recommend thoroughly researching the "customer" before meeting them and asking a lot of questions during the meeting. This will assist you in uncovering their most important needs. Lastly, we developed the acronym C.O.P. to help you remember and apply all three steps:
Step 1: C stands for Copying. First, buy a small, ringed memo pad that will easily fit into your pocket or purse. Over the course of 3-4 days, copy all: a) quantitative accomplishments (e.g. any ways you've saved money, made money, any awards or situations where you stood out versus co-workers) and b) any specific tasks you've undertaken or skills you've acquired that are directly related to the job requirements at hand (e.g. if you are a secretary applying for a job that requires a lot of M.S. Office, copy the most important projects where you used M.S. Office). Carry the memo pad everywhere. You will probably balk at this feeling that a complete inventory is possible after only 30 minutes. However, our research shows that you will immediately remember 60-70% of your skills and accomplishments at the outset. However the remaining 30-40% will surface when you least expect it over a period of days. You could be watching a TV program and remember a 50% cost savings from 15 years ago! Therefore, you should spend at least a couple days on this step before moving on to step two.
Step 2: O stands for Organizing. After making an exhaustive list of accomplishments and skills related to the job, you should rank-order them from the most important down to the least. When formulating this list, research the company to determine the order. Often times the job description offers many clues as to the priority. Next memorize the ten most important accomplishments and skills. This will assist you in targeting your sales pitch during the interview.
Step 3: P stands for Practice, Practice and more Practice! We have found that video taping practice interviews is the best way for you to improve all aspects of your interview sales presentation. You should select a friend, colleague or recruiter to act as the mock interviewer. Furthermore, you should ask them to be as tough on you as possible. This is the case since our research shows that the tougher you are on yourself during the practice interview, the easier the actual interview will be for you. During the practice, you should include information copied in step one and organized in step two. You should also have your interviewer devise questions related to the job advertisement and "throw curves" at you. Responding to difficult questions better prepares you for obstacles that may arise in the actual interview.
Another tool to include in your practice sessions is trial closes. One good technique for improving trial closes during practice sessions is recording a couple on a 3X5 file card (one on each side). Two good ones are: a) can you see the benefit of that? And b) is that important to you? During the practice session, alternate between the two. Our research shows that trial closes are governed by a rule of ten. If you remember to practice them 20 times in the mock interview, you will be lucky to remember to employ them twice in the actual interview. Like a thermometer to gauge a patient's temperature, trial closes gauge the customer's interest level. If there appears to be interest, there is no need to belabor a given point. Instead go for the close. Remember, less is more!
Other sales techniques will also naturally flow from repetitive practice and observation of the video taped interviews. Even those with no sales ability will gravitate to more precise and powerful presentations once they observe and correct taped performances. You can also observe and practice sales techniques found in many top sales training videos. However, one quick way to uncover other sales techniques is by viewing good infomercials. Their sales presentations tend to be short, targeted and K.I.S.S. oriented. Furthermore they are often sprinkled with benefits and trial closes. Adopt techniques that feel comfortable.
Just as in basketball where practicing free throws improves game efficiency, religious repetition of video taped practice interviews increases interviewing prowess. The underlining principle is you are your own best judge. By observing your mistakes during the practice interview, you will modify pitches into shorter and more powerful presentations in the actual interview. The keys are experimenting with different sales techniques, practicing multiple times, observing the taped performances and making corrections.
In closing, we attempted to create a tool that could easily be taught to candidates like you with little or no sales experience. We decided that the best role models were accomplished salesmen. We observed and interviewed top producers and uncovered their top ten traits. Once identified, we attempted to capture the easiest to replicate characteristics for non-sales oriented candidates. The result was the three-step Real Benefit Exercise™. We developed the acronym C.O.P. to help you remember and apply the exercise. Although we do not expect sales mastery for non-sales oriented individuals, we have noticed significant improvements in sales abilities as a result of repetitive practice. The cornerstone is video-taped practice interviews. They serve as a proving ground for many necessary interview sales techniques including trial closes, the K.I.S.S. principle, the consultant approach to sales and sprucing up presentations using benefits instead of just facts. Just as a basketball player can improve free throw percentage by extensive practice, you can significantly improve your interview sales skills by repetitive use of this exercise.