Developing a diagnostic tool for salespersons inunderstanding customers in Sri LankaIt is said that selling is 90% understanding customers and 10% product knowledge. Almost all thesuccessful sales people shares this maxim. However, not much is covered or not much prominence isgiven in marketing courses as to understanding customers although Consumer Behavior is a subject inalmost all the courses available whether it is a six months Diploma or a 4 year degree. As a result,companies spend millions of Rupees each year in training their sales people how to understandcustomers, what factors influence their needs and how to effectively use such information to close asale.In theory we present ‘The Black Box Approach”, which describes the difficulty in understanding thebuyer’s hidden mental process. The sales presentation is the “stimulus” that is applied in expecting apositive response from the buyer. The stimulus is given to the buyer by the salesperson, but customersmental process that decides to buy or not cannot be understood for sure. People not only take decisionsrationally but emotionally as well and it is a complicated process for one to understand. Can a salesperson make the same sales presentation to each and everybody to win a sale? No absolutely not. Thenhow do you understand the customer well within a short period of time to make a sale? Even a trainedpsychologist cannot do that within the short period of time that a salesman has to assess the customer.Is there a simple way to understand customers in order that the salesperson makes the correctstimulation to win the heart of the customer and close a sale?The customer’s behavior changes from one to another depending on their knowledge, experience andattitude. However, they all want to be right and they want to be understood. In my own experience inselling products for the last few decades and sharing other salespersons ideas in many training programsI have found a simple tool that could be used to a greater extent in this context in understandingcustomers. I have used this in many of my sales training courses to illustrate this tool to the participantsand many are now using this simple tool that work many of the situations although there could beexceptional cases. Therefore, it is not advocated as a theory but as a tool or a guide in quicklyunderstanding a customer.Sri Lanka is a multi ethnic, multi religious country. We also have a history and a deep rooted culture. Inthe modern day, we get exposed to so many things as a result of the vastly developed communicationtechnology. As such we have common and unique set of customer types. A salesperson would be able tounderstand the customer type within a short period if he has studied the categories of customer typeswell.I have classified the customers in Sri Lanka into many categories and some of the famous characters arelisted herein.1. Mr. Sakaratne ( sketptical)2. Mr. Kenthi ( furious)
3. Mr. Atheerana ( indecisive)4. Mr. Siyalude dath ( I know all)5. Mr. Hadissi ( Hurry up)6. Mr. Deshapalaka ( Politician)7. Mr. Thakshana ( Techno)8. Mr. Mudalali ( a businessman)9. Mr. Keval ( Bargain hunter)10. Mr. Kapati ( Cunning)11. Mr. Lokuwansa ( Big Shot)Once you read the descriptions of categories you might be able to create more categories of your ownand label them with your own name tags. Yes you got to do that that is where I want to lead you,develop your own types of customers by reading this article.Male character format was used for ease of naming them but it would apply equally to females too. Ifyou can describe the behavior and expectations of these customer categories in general, thesalesperson would find it easy to fine tune his sales talk within few minutes of talking to the customer.The physical appearance and body language also will give clues to the salesperson in categorization ofthe customer quickly. Now let’s analyse the characteristics of the types of customers that are listed.Mr. SakaratneThis customer is a tough customer to please with. He will not believe what you say whatevercertification or reference you may have about the product or service that you offer. He will beargumentative, raises dogmatic objections with a little anger, cynicism or sarcasm hidden underneath it.How do you respond to such a customer? The first thing that you should understand is that you aredealing with a skeptical customer and arguing and contradicting him will not bear any results. Let him orher speak out and get it off their chest. All what he wants is to listen to him and answer his concernswith interest. Do not interrupt. Say “ I am pleased that you asked that question, I will make sure that allyour concerns are replied to your satisfaction Sir/Madam” If you need to clarify something further andsay “ sorry I could not really grasp what you were saying on “XYZ” can you please clarify it Sir/Madam”. “I need to find the correct answer/ solution to you” Your concerns are appreciated and many of thecustomers who finally purchased our goods also had the same kind of concerns Sir/madam,”. That’show you handle them. If you do so, in most of the occasions you will win heart of Sakaratne and he willbecome a repeat customer of yours.Mr. KenthiThis person is not hostile by nature but hostile for some reason. It could be because you have supplied adefective item, simply your salespersons have not given him attention or listen to him well. Nowinstantly you need to understand that he is a Mr. Kenthi. Then use the following to handle him. Youneed to use listen to him, empathise with him, apologise to him and do the needful with interest tosatisfy him. Say” thank you very much for telling us your bad experience, we appreciate your frank andopenness, if I were in your situation I too would feel the same, we are very sorry for lapse on our part.
Please be assured that I will do the best to make it correct” . Finally you will find that he is a satisfiedcustomer and a repeat customer who will come and ask by your name at the next visit he will make.Mr. AtheeranaSurely you have come across this type of customers in your sales career. This is a common category. Hemay say “Yes” and say “No” at the same time. He just can’t decide what he wants. He has troublemaking a decision. His behavior would be same for simple product and also for an expensive item like acar or a house. If you understand that he is Mr. Atheerana, first thing you got to do is try and win hisconfidence. Bring him to a level that you are honestly on his side and you are with him to take thecorrect decision. You have to push him without his knowledge to take a decision. If not you will besaddled with a customer who would waste the time that you have to spend with other customers. Youneed to make “Atheerana” a “Theerana”. All what he needs is genuine support and all what you got todo is to let him know that you are honestly doing that.Mr. SiyaludedathHe is out to show that he knows better than you are even though in fact he knows little. If you find aperson of this caliber, first thing that you should show to him is that you are pleased to have him in frontyou as you will learn something from him today. He may know about the product details that he is goingto buy or he may be a person who thinks that he knows many things about life. So give him theopportunity to show off what he knows. He wants you to be his audience. If you show that you havelearned something about the product or any other things from him, he would be very happy and wouldbe an easy customer to win. But you got to be patient and tactful in handling him as he may also wasteyour time that could be used for another customer.Mr. HadissiIf you find a customer who wants only facts and just the facts, he is a Hadissi type of a customer. He maynot be bothered about with additional details. So be brief to the point, be businesslike and close the saleas early as possible. Many professionals like doctors, lawyers, engineers, senior executives fall into thiscategory. They do not have much time to spend on purchasing stuff but would like that you do apersonalized service with respect. They do not bargain much but want to pay the standard price for aproduct. They like you to be frank about what you say and they like you to handle them in theprofessional manner.
Mr. DeshapalakaThere are two types of them. One is a real politician and the other one is a character who shows that heis an affiliate of a politician. They want respect and to feel that they are specially treated. If you identifythe category, give them what they want. Offer them a seat, introduce them to your manager and letthem talk about politics, power they have and you listen to them with interest. Most the politicians havemoney to buy the best products, Show them the best and talk about a special price that you can offer.You will win the sale.Mr. ThakshanaHe may have the latest phone or the latest ipod with him. He will show details about products throughhis phone or ipod. He will talk of the specifications of the products and features and benfits before youpresent it to him. So understand that he is in the “Thankshana” category. All what he wants is for you toaccept he is a person with the modern day technology. So appreciate his status and talk about hisgadgetry too. Give him exact figures and specs and be frank and professional. He will be with you. Youwill win his heart and make a sale.Mr. MudalaliHe is a businessman and knows about how salesperson handles customers. Once you know his categoryacknowledge that he knows how things happen in businesses. If you know his business, tell others infront of him that he is so and so of “XYZ” business. Give him due respect and accept him as a businessperson and do not be too smart in your sales presentation. Talk to him about the way you makepurchases and how you compete and deal in the market place frankly. He will appreciate the fact thatyou need to keep a standard profit margin to run the business. Give him a personalized service. He willbe with you and you will win his heart and close a sale.Mr. KevalA person who would ask the price first and start bargaining at a price that you can afford to sell is abargain hunter. So it is not difficult to understand the type. All what he wants is feel that he had madethe purchase at the lowest possible price in the market place. Do not get offended when he offers aprice much less than your cost. Indicate to him at the first instance that he will get the best deal fromyou. Describe not just the price but the rest of the services and benefits that he will get from buying theproduct from you. You may show to him the prices that the other customers have purchased theproduct. Let him know that you will talk to your manager and get him a special price where no othercustomer has got. All he wants is to feel that he purchased at the lowest price.Mr. KapatiIf you come to know across a customer who tries to deceive you, he would fall onto this category. Hemay indicate an offer by a competitor for a much lower price or terms that nobody can offer in the
market, he may say that you offered a much lower price over the phone, he may show that he is justabout to buy the product but in fact he is not. He will show money to lure you to offer a better price.Show him that you are very interested in serving him. Never challenge him but simply be professional.Mr. LokuwansaHe wants to show that he is an important person. He wants to be the center stage so the spotlightshines on him. He does not want to deal with one of the boys in the sales team. In Sinhala he might say “Malli Lokka Nedda” . He wants him to be handled by a senior person. So all what you want to do is givehim what he wants. Let the manager or a senior person handle his sale. Give him importance. He willbuy your product.If you are an experienced salesperson you would be able to list and categorise many types of customersthat you meet in your day to day sales life. If you refer to the lyrics of famous much critisised song ofNihal Nelson -Meka Gune Ayyage Bajaw Dhana Kamare- He describes Gune Ayya’s customers as “Pachcha sirala, Kochchi halala, Guspi robala, Nalumansla, Nilimansla, Camera katala, Aliwansen wedakarana Supermansla, Bara porawal, Foreigns kakul ”. That’s a fine illustration of customer types of thatbusiness. When author was conducting a training session for a famous government handicraftemporium back in 1990s, the sales girls described a customer type called “looking only customers”(LOC), who come to their sales outlet just to go around and cool off themselves in the air-conditionedenvironment on days where very hot weather is prevailing. But they said they welcome them with asmile hoping that they would become a customer sooner or later.In conclusion, let me reiterate the importance of developing your own diagnostic tool in understandingcustomers and treating them in the manner that they want you to win a sale and develop a long termrelationship. Discuss among the members of your sales team about the types of customers you cameacross daily and how you have handled them in wining a sale. Do not wait till another trainer comes andtrain you or a new book is published on understanding customers. Your knowledge and practice willmake you a master in understanding the customer.