Sales Skills

by Jeremy Cassell and Tom Bird

Who are your buyers?

He who buys need have 100 eyes, but one’s enough for him that sells the stuff.

Benjamin Franklin

In order to understand how people responsible for corporate buying decisions feel about their interactions with salespeople, DDI (the selection and development specialists) recently conducted a major global study of corporate buyers. Survey respondents included 2,705 corporate buyers and those involved with the buying process across six countries (Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the UK and US) and representative of a wide range of industries, job levels and age groups.

DDI specifically wanted to know how these people view their buyer-seller relationships and asked buyers a series of questions which included

  • What qualities do you value in a salesperson?
  • Have your expectations of salespeople changed?
  • What value do salespeople provide to buying organisations?

Take a moment to think of at least one of your current buyers.

  1. Write down what you think they want out of the relationship between them and you and the business you represent.
  2. Write down what you imagine they think of you. Be objective – think as if you were them.

The research from DDI suggested that many buyers have a poor perception of salespeople. Here are some of the comments from buyers about salespeople captured by the researchers:

  • ‘Unwilling to listen’
  • ‘Won’t take no for an answer’
  • ‘Lacking knowledge about their products’
  • ‘More interested in commission than what I need’
  • ‘Doesn’t understand my circumstances’.

Hardly ringing endorsements!

The move away from transactional selling means that salespeople should be adding more value throughout the whole sales process. However, when buyers were asked to describe their perceptions of the sales process, the most common description, across all countries, was that the sales process is ‘a necessary evil.’ Only 6 per cent rated the sales profession ‘excellent.’ Buyers in the UK provided the lowest ratings, with 53 per cent rating sales ‘poor’ or ‘fair.’ Overall, 54 per cent of buyers said ‘Yes’ to this question – would you consider your sales contacts business partners? So, over half are now getting more value from the relationship, although there were regional differences: in the UK, for instance, only 42 per cent answered ‘Yes’.

From nuisance to resource

There is a positive intent articulated by buyers. For example, more than 90 per cent of customers would like their sales contact to be more of a resource to them. More worrying, perhaps, is that over two-thirds of buyers believe salespeople’s expertise is getting worse.


The key finding that stood out from the survey was this: 61 per cent of buyers said sales representatives were transaction-orientated only and did not understand customer needs.

The report highlights the growing gap between what buyers want from salespeople and what they are routinely given in terms of service and expertise.

So let’s start looking at ways in which salespeople, across all market sectors and across the globe, can really make a difference. There are salespeople out there adding value, offering great service, aligning what they offer with their customers’ requirements and making great money! These people are open to change, flexible and thoroughly professional. They adapt their approach and meet the evolving needs of the people who make the decisions.

Key questions

So what are the expectations of the buyer? Below are 20 key questions on buyers’ minds.

Your offering

  • What is your product/service?
  • How does your product/service fit with my business and my current business outcomes?
  • How will your product/service help me now and in the future?
  • How can you guarantee the quality of your product or service?

Legitimacy of your business

  • What sort of reputation does your company have?
  • What experience does your company have in my market?
  • What would others in my business think of your product/service?


  • Why should I buy from you and not someone else?

Price versus value

  • Why should I pay your price?
  • Can I make a sufficient margin by buying your product/service?


  • Do I really need to buy this now?
  • Can I wait to buy your product?
  • What would be the implications if I did wait to buy?


  • What relevant experience do you have in my market/business?
  • What do first impressions tell me about you, your product/service and your company?
  • What would others in my organisation think of you?
  • Am I likely to trust you?
  • How will you help me achieve my own personal goals?
  • Do I like you?
  • Can I see you as a potential business partner in the future?

Just as salespeople are paid on results, so, increasingly, are buyers. They have real fears that you need to identify and meet. These will include

  • The fear of paying too much
  • The fear of change
  • The fear of being left behind
  • The fear of loss.

Your job as a salesperson is to answer the buyers’ questions and address their fears. And so the ultimate question for any buyer is this: ‘Why should I buy from you?’

There is plenty of competition out there and if we are not able to answer this basic question, with a degree of lucidity, we will struggle. People buy results, so what result can you offer? What are the benefits of your service/product?

The decision to buy

Most buyers, and this goes for consumers as well as professionals, will go through this kind of decision-making process before they buy anything:

  • I’m OK: I have what I need
  • I am dissatisfied in some way – what I have is no longer OK
  • I decide to do something
  • I do some research – what are the options?
  • I have some concerns – are these resolvable?
  • I buy
  • I convince myself it was the right thing to do.

They go through a "buying process" which has distinct steps. They have different questions and needs at each step. You need to make sure that you are interacting with the prospect in a way that is consistent with where they are at in their buying process.


Take one of your key clients or prospects and put yourself in the buyer’s shoes.

  1. Decide which questions are likely to be on your buyer’s mind given where they are at in their buying process.
  2. What other questions might they have about your particular product/service?
  3. Pretend you are the buyer, and attempt to answer the questions.
  4. What fears does he/she have?

Finally – take your time to decide what actions you can take to move the buyer through their buying process, build more trust and either sell for the first time or win more business.

As your prospect moves on to the the next stage of their buying process, do this again.

DDI Survey results

There is a fair amount of consistency across regions as to what buyers are looking for from their salespeople. Of course, they want respect, a sensible level of support and advice, when it is appropriate. The table below outlines the nine key qualities that buyers are seeking from a sales partner, identified by DDI.

Product or service advice 67% 70% 64% 72% 76% 58% 59%
Market knowledge 44% 42% 44% 36% 58% 41% 41%
Trust 43% 47% 57% 40% 15% 49% 51%
Pricing/price negotiation 41% 47% 44% 35% 29% 49% 45%
Relationship building 31% 34% 34% 24% 30% 33% 32%
Delivery expediting 30% 23% 22% 40% 47% 26% 24%
Customer/supplier interface 24% 21% 22% 20% 36% 24% 23%
Business advice 8% 5% 6% 15% 7% 6% 7%
ROI analysis 4% 1% 2% 13% 1% 1% 4%

All salespeople are taught that people will only buy if there is a match between what someone is selling and what another wants or needs. This table represents what your buyers want.