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Sunday, May 27, 2007

HR Managers Should Learn How to Sell

Think about it... Think about the times when you failed to get management buy-in for your pet program. How about the time when managers did not buy your proposals for a “kick-ass” performance management system or when you  canceled your training program because even the ones you did not invite made up excuses for not attending? Was there something wrong with your program? Why were people uninterested? Was it another case of RESISTANCE TO CHANGE?

In HR circles, resistance to change is a major culprit for failed HR initiatives. Don’t get anybody started with it because personal anecdotes of how their HR plans went to waste because of… yes, resistance to change! Is it really it, however? Is resistance to change the real culprit or is it the failure of the HR Manager to present a convincing case?

Management will buy anything if they are convinced that it will improve business performance. Employees will buy anything that will benefit them. People will buy anything once they realize what's in it for them. You can even make them do dog tricks if you make them believe it will help them with their problems! The problem is many of us in the HR practice rely on our formal authority to get things done. We readily assume that people will comply simply because they must. This results to half-heartedness about your programs, people making up as much excuses as they can to escape participation. Getting buy-in for your programs requires building a strong case. It requires showing the big benefits over costs and efforts. It requires SELLING. And selling is an important skill that I believe we HR Managers should learn to master.

One of the many definitions of selling is “exchange for money, to exchange a product or service for money, or be exchanged for money.” If you think about it, there is some degree of exchange whenever we succeed in selling something. We exchange our HR program for management time and money, it goes the same for the employees. They have to give up something in order to pave the way for our program and before they do that, they must realize how much of a good deal it is to give up what they have for what you offer. If they do not have to give up anything for the program then I would bet that you can sell to them automatically!

There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of selling techniques of selling out there but I’d like to present a really simple one and show you how I believe it applies to us HR Managers and hopefully sell you the idea of learning how to sell. This approach is commonly know as the A.I.D.A. technique.

A is for get the customer’s ATTENTION
Your customer in this case could be management or employees. Getting their attention require doing some homework. In sales this is called prospecting and qualifying. To be able to sell ice in an Eskimo town is a pretty amazing feat but it will only be a matter of time before the populace realize they’ve been had! Its not the kind of selling that we want to do. We want to be able to determine if our prospects (Management or employees) have the needs and the resources necessary to buy our products (programs). Failure to do this can lead to failure to sell. In order to grab our customer’s attention we need to understand the problems they are facing whether they realize them or not. We need to understand the kind of solution necessary to address their problems and develop our programs around their problems. This way the product we will present is exactly what they need. Grabbing their attention also requires building rapport. Rapport is defined by Encarta Dictionary as “friendly relationship: an emotional bond or friendly relationship between people based on mutual liking, trust, and a sense that they understand and share each other's concerns.” Failure to build rapport at the onset of the selling process can lead to rejection. People will probably say “here is our HR Manager again with one of his cockamamie schemes.”

I is for stimulate your customer’s INTEREST
Once rapport is built, customers are ready to listen. This is your opportunity to stimulate their interest by presenting your product’s major features and relating them to their problems or needs. You should be able to touch the following points at this juncture:

  • Functions - How does someone use your product?
  • Features - What are the individual characteristics of your product?
  • Advantages - How will the product address the individuals’ needs or solve their problems?
  • Benefits - What good things will happen when someone uses your products?

D is for create the DESIRE to buy
Some of the major concerns of customers are product effectiveness, ease of use and overall value for money (or effort). You as a sales person should be able to convince the customer that your product is indeed effective, easy to use (or relatively easier to use compared to the old system) and a worthwhile investment. This is the point when OBJECTIONS are likely to arise so you should be ready to deal with them. Objections are what scare many mediocre sales people. These are the reasons they run away from a sales opportunity. But objections do not necessarily mean rejection but a need to support your case better. Convincing your customer that the benefit far outweigh the cost through examples or benchmarks can seal the deal.

A is for confirm the ACTION to be taken.
This is the stage when you ask your customer to make a buying decision. If you did a good job in the previous stages of the selling process, this should be quite easy. But selling doesn’t really end in closing the deal. Only fly-by-night sales people think that the selling ends when they get the customers’ money. A good sales person makes sure that the customer is able to use the product and should problems exist, the sales person is there to render some after sales support.

Selling is an important skill for everyone not just for sales people. If you think about it actually, all of us are sales people. All of us sell something. It could be an outright exchange of product or service for money or ideas, plans and programs in exchange for buy-in. Understanding the process of selling and the way buyers behave and incorporating selling in our skills toolbox will help us HR managers improve our batting average in implementing our programs.

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