The hard reality is that your customers don’t need you in the same way they did in the past. According to a study conducted by Gartner Research, customers now wait until they are 57% through the sales process before they even place a call to your community or walk through your door. If your customers have already completed their own research, talked to their social network, visited the competition, and they are more than halfway through their purchasing decision, what do they need from you? They need you to behave differently.
Here are three ways you can listen for unexpressed needs and wishes.
1. Thinking Like Your Customer
My oldest son turned 14 years old a few weeks ago. He had requested a Friendly’s ice cream cake for his celebration dinner. This is an annual purchase, so I knew exactly where to pick it up at our local grocery store. The ice cream cakes are located in a big freezer in the bakery department, so I didn’t need any assistance. As I pulled it out of the freezer, I noticed a display of birthday candles on the counter. I wasn’t sure if I had enough candles at home, so I picked some out and tossed them into my cart. As I was walking away, a young lady stepped out from behind the counter. She asked me if I would like her to personalize the cake. I was shocked because this large superstore which begins with the letter “W” doesn’t have a reputation for good service. Immediately, I asked her, “How much?” She replied, “There is no charge. I would be happy to write a birthday message on it for free.” It only took a few minutes, and I was heading out the door with a beautiful personalized ice cream cake. I didn’t walk in thinking I needed a personalized cake, but when she asked the question she uncovered an unrealized and unexpressed wish.
This is a perfect example of how an employee can listen for and deliver on unexpressed needs and wishes. Ironically, asking for someone to personalize my son’s cake was not something I would have thought I could ask for and therefore I wouldn’t have. But she anticipated and delivered on something that I didn’t even realize I needed or wanted.
Several years ago, Discover Card launched their “We treat you like you’d treat you“ advertising campaign. These humorous commercials portray a customer talking to a Discover employee who looks and sounds almost exactly the same as the customer. In the commercials, the customer relays their problem or question and is met with a helpful response. The customers and representatives then have a moment of togetherness – high fiving through the phone, laughing, celebrating together – and each ends with the narrator saying that at Discover “we treat you like you’d treat you.” It is a powerful statement about what true success looks like in the eyes of the customer.
What did the young lady at the grocery store and Discover both accomplish? They listened for unexpressed needs and wishes. They located an obvious or unrealized pain point, then provided a clear and memorable solution to that pain point.
2. Coaching Rather Than Selling
It would make sense that a customer who is 57% through the sales process before they contact you or who regurgitates all the information they have already consumed during their independent research does not really need a hard sell. What they really need is a coach – someone who can guide them through those newly revealed unexpressed needs and wishes, clarify, and help them make a good purchasing decision. When you coach a customer, you are focusing on the person and not necessarily the task. What is the difference, you ask?
- Instead of leading with answers, you sell with questions. In ways, you are challenging the customer’s thought process.
- Instead of quickly apologizing or worrying about that external objection (the apartment is small, etc.), help your customer to overcome their internal objections so that they can arrive at their own solutions.
- Instead of being the top problem-solver, coach your customer through the strategic use of open-ended insightful questions.
- Focus on what they want, and not what you want. Don’t assume they know what they want. The outcome will usually fall in your favor when you approach it this way.
- Coach them to create new and better possibilities for their home so that the close becomes the natural byproduct of the conversation.
One of the biggest mistakes leasing professionals make is that they immediately push the sales process forward without determining if there’s a fit worth pursuing. When they focus on buying versus selling, they make it about the customer and the true value the product delivers. It is simply focusing on the outcome and the relationship the customer wants rather than the results the leasing professional wants. If you haven’t read The Challenger Sale or Insight Selling, I would highly recommend either one. In a nutshell, their approach relies on uncovering an unknown problem, delivering insight, and uniquely positioning your product as the possible solution.
3. Engaging in Both the Selling and Buying Conversations
Did you realize that every sale involves two conversations? Interestingly, most leasing professionals are only trained on one of the two conversations – the selling conversation. This is the conversation that gets the majority of the focus in our classrooms. It is the one that takes place between the leasing professional and the customer. What we don’t listen to very often is the second conversation. This is the conversation that is taking place between the customer’s ears – the buying conversation.
Selling is an external conversation. It is based on the needs and goals often set by the leasing professional, and too often it is heavily one-sided. This is a result of a leasing professional doing more talking than listening. Natural excitement for their product can set a new team member off toward a hard sell for a customer to make a quick purchase. Think about all of the brand-new leasing professionals who are successful when they have very little experience or product knowledge. All they can lead with is their personality, and for some people that is enough! Unfortunately, a snap decision can also result in buyer’s remorse. Some people are prone to a sense of buyer’s remorse than others. In another blog post, I shared research which revealed that 80 percent of Gen-Z end up returning purchases after holiday shopping. If you haven’t heard, Gen-Z will surpass Millennials in 2019 as the largest generation, and early signs show they are about to shake things up. If they already have a natural buyer’s remorse tendency, how will they impact your leasing numbers?
If a leasing professional doesn’t engage with the customer’s internal conversation, will the customer still lease? Yes. It happens many times depending on how high the desire is for the product being offered. I wrote a blog a few years ago titled, “Stop the Stinking Thinking” which speaks to this point clearly. Sometimes a customer will say yes to leasing an apartment when we least expected it. You might be thinking, “Well, that is great!” Yet, is this the kind of purchase that will lead to long-term customer loyalty?
Buying is an internal conversation. The conversation is taking place inaudibly in the customer’s mind. Quite often, they are dealing internally with confusion, doubt, and distraction. The goal for any leasing professional should not merely be to get their customers to buy, but instead and more importantly to get them to buy into what they have to offer. This will increase customer loyalty, retention, and word-of-mouth advertising. The only way this can take place is to engage the internal buying conversation by asking thoughtful open-ended questions, listening, and then responding to their expressed and unexpressed needs and wishes.
- Example of Selling Conversation: Isn’t this kitchen awesome!? Look at all the space! Silence… This refrigerator can hold up to ___ items. More silence… We also offer granite countertops which is unique to our market. Still nothing from the customer… This is a self-cleaning oven, which is great. This breakfast bar can fit 3-4 barstools which is great for entertaining. Meanwhile they are having a conversation with themselves you are not hearing.
- Example of Buying Conversation: Do you enjoy cooking? Listen. Do you spend a lot of time in your current kitchen? Listen again. What do you like or dislike about your current kitchen? Keep listening. Have you ever considered storing and displaying your large pots on the top cabinet area? Listen. Do you know that you can adjust these shelves so that your large cereal boxes and juice bottles can stand upright? Listen more. If you don’t need this small hall closet for storage, would you consider using it to hang your dress shirts to air dry? Continue listening.
The buying conversation involves a continual process of asking questions, listening, and engaging back in conversation as you lead the customer down their purchasing journey. Remember, in the internal buying conversation the customer doesn’t always know what they want or need. It is the job of the leasing professional to present ideas, ask questions, and dig deeper to start engaging in that internal conversation.
In the age of information, customers are typically overflowing with facts they have gathered by the time they walk through your door. If 57% of the sales process is already behind you at that point, how your leasing professionals approach the remaining 43% will determine if the customer leases at your community or the one down the road. Thinking like your customer, coaching rather than selling, and engaging in the selling and buying conversations can truly help your team achieve greater success. When you listen to unexpressed needs and wishes not only will you increase sales, but you will ultimately drive higher customer loyalty.
Vice President of Training and Development
Edge2Learn / Ellis Partners in Management Solutions