Selling Services – How to Recognize Customer Buying Signals

Understanding your customers’ needs, and knowing what is available for sale, complete one key equation; however, there is still one other key unanswered question: How can you tell when your customer is ready to buy?

Recognizing a customer’s buying signals is one of the most difficult things there is to teach. In fact, many will argue that this is an innate trait that only “true” salespersons are born with. Whether this is true or not is really only a side issue. The main issue is that every one of your customers and prospects sends out signals that you can rally around with respect to determining when they are ready to buy. Some will be “hard” signals that you can practically take right to the bank; although most will be “soft” signals that will vary from customer-to-customer, person-to-person, and situation-to-situation. Let me explain.

The various types of buying signals “transmitted” by your customers may typically be classified into the following categories:

  • Overt
  • Passive
  • Observed

Overt Buying Signals

An overt buying signal is the closest thing to a gift that you may ever receive from your customers. This is when the customer calls you, or comes right up to you, and says something like, “Our copier is pretty much shot, and it simply won’t handle all of our volume anymore. Don’t you guys have a newer machine that you think can do the job for us?” Or, “You know, our machine will be coming off warranty soon. Don’t you guys offer some kind of extended warranty contract? If you do, we’d really be interested.” While these opportunities may seem just like manna fallen from the heavens, the problem is, if you do not take immediate advantage of them, the opportunities themselves may either fade over time, or go away altogether.

For example, given an opportunity like one of these, it may simply be a matter of speaking briefly with your customer, showing him or her a new brochure or directing them to your company’s web site, and casually discussing the enhanced features of a new system or service offering on a face-to-face basis. However, if your response is more like, “I have a few ideas. Why don’t I get back to you in a week or two when I’m not so busy, and maybe we can work out something.” By the time a couple of weeks go by, the thought of acquiring a new piece of equipment or service offering may have moved from your customer’s top-of-mind to their back-of-mind – and once there, it may involve much more work on your part to get it back up front.

Overt buying signals do not happen all the time; but when they do, you pretty much have to take advantage of them as they occur, rather than run the risk of having the customer push it far back into the recesses of his or her mind – or even worse, allowing them to have the same conversation with a competitive vendor’s sales or services person.

Passive Buying Signals

Passive buying signals may not be as obvious; however, they are still fairly easy to identify, and even easier to take advantage of. The tell-tale clues that your customers may give to you typically manifest themselves in comments or questions such as, “Man, this old machine keeps breaking down, and breaking down, and breaking down. I don’t know what I’m going to do if it shuts down during one of our big production runs”; “Ever since this machine came off of warranty, whenever we call for service, we end up paying you guys on a time and materials basis. There’s got to be a better way”; or “I don’t know. It just seems like our other division on the next floor gets their copy work done a heck of a lot faster than we do. I think they have a new machine up there, and they just keep making us look bad in comparison”.

Any of these comments or questions represent just as valid a selling opportunity as any of the overt buying signals we just talked about earlier. The only real difference is that, in these cases, you will typically need to be the one who initiates the conversation about replacement units, new machines, and/or enhanced service level agreements – and not the customer.

Even so, you may still be surprised as to how receptive your customers will be in having such a conversation. What’s more, since you already understand your customers’ needs and requirements for business imaging systems and equipment, and you know what your company has available for sale, you can probably step right in, provide some specific suggestions or recommendations, and convert a potential customer problem into a potential company sale.

Observed Buying Signals

Sometimes the customer does not even have to say a word. Since you already visit the customer’s site, on average, about once a month or so, you are probably in an excellent position to observe how one or more of their machines are routinely being overused, misused, or otherwise used improperly. You have probably also seen some of your customers reach new levels of frustration in dealing with machines that simply cannot ratchet up to their increased levels of volume or throughput, or effectively deal with emerging areas of business imaging applications.

We have all heard the expression that “a picture is worth a thousand words”. In both the overt and passive buying signal situations, it will primarily be the words that are either conveyed to you, or conveyed by you to the customer, that will ultimately lead to the potential sale. However, in an observed buying signal situation, it is the “picture” you observe at the customer site that will ultimately tell you the “story” that you will need to focus on in order to ultimately make the sale.

At the end of the day, it really does not matter whether the buying signal you get is overt, passive, or simply observed – what does matter though, is that you get the signal, you know what to do with it, you take advantage of it, and you serve effectively in your role as an intermediary between what your customer needs, and what your company offers.

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