In any conversation between a salesperson and their client, the salesperson is either One-Up or One-Down. The term One-Up means the salesperson has the knowledge and experience their client lacks. The definition of One-Down is "not One-Up." It's binary. You are either one or the other when comparing your knowledge and experience to that of your client.
To keep up with the pace of change, the world increasingly needs salespeople who are One-Up. The danger of being One-Down is that you don't create enough value in the sales conversation. A One-Down salesperson is unable to help clients with the decisions they are considering and the challenges they are confronting—so they cannot create a preference to buy from them.
The Perils of Being One Down
What follows here outlines the dangers you face from being One-Down. A salesperson who is One-Down in any of these categories is more likely to be One-Down in the others. They are all but certain to cause you to lose any opportunity you might have had.
Starting the Conversation
A One-Down salesperson is certain to start the conversation in one of two ways. The first is by trying to build rapport with their client, hoping they connect on a personal level. The second is to start with an approach they believe provides them with credibility: describing their company and their products to try to prove they can help the client.
"The One-Up salesperson creates value in the sales conversation by educating the client about what they need to know to address their challenges."
The One-Up salesperson doesn't waste their prospective client’s valuable time. Instead, they begin a conversation as a business advisor would, sharing information designed to help the client understand why they are experiencing their current challenges. The One-Up salesperson creates value in the sales conversation by educating the client about what they need to know to address their challenges.
The One-Down salesperson isn't going to create the same level of value as the One-Up salesperson, so their client will refuse a second meeting. The first meeting with the One-Down salesperson wasn't valuable enough to make them interested in hearing any more.
Asking the Client Questions
A One-Down salesperson will ask questions with the sole intention of learning something from their contacts. Many of these questions are obvious, and a good number of them have been asked so many times that the client finds them to be quaint. The One-Down ask questions with the intention of discovering the client’s "problem" and their "pain." This approach positions the One-Down salesperson poorly because they should already know the answer to these questions, as there are a limited number of challenges they can help the client address.
The One-Up salesperson will also ask questions to learn how to help the client improve their results, but most of their early questions are geared toward helping the client learn something about themselves and the decisions they'll need to make.
The One-Up salesperson will often hear their client say something like, "That's a great question," which is proof positive they have created value for their contact.
The One-Down salesperson is faced with the danger of not presenting themselves as capable of providing clients with the help they need to improve their results. A person that doesn't seem to know much more than the client is all but certain to be disqualified early in the client's search for help.
The Sales Conversation
It may no longer be accurate to call the sales conversation "the sales process." The wheels of the process seem to have fallen off, with decision-makers and their stakeholders zigzagging through the conversation, making it nonlinear (and perhaps, out of control). Following the linear sales process makes it hard for a salesperson to support the client in the way they need.
The One-Down salesperson doesn't recognize their obligation to help their prospective client make sense of the challenges they are facing. Instead, they use the well-worn path they know, even when it doesn't give the client the information to reach the better results they need. In the worst cases, the One-Down salesperson is so completely One-Down, that they follow the client's lead, even though the client doesn’t know the way. (If they did, they wouldn’t need your help to improve their results.)
The One-Up salesperson, having helped many clients over many years, recognizes that there are some conversations that need to occur for the client to successfully execute their change initiative.
Part of their journey includes others who are going to need to participate in these conversations and the decisions they will need to make. The One-Up salesperson knows the path far better than their clients, and so they take the lead.
The luckiest One-Down salesperson faces a danger that clients fail to have the important conversations they need and don’t agree to make the commitments that will allow their initiative to succeed. But the worse and more likely outcome is that the One-Down salesperson is easily dismissed from consideration.
There is an old saying in sales that suggests you should "lose fast," something the One-Down salesperson does consistently. Losing fast, however, should not happen because you didn't create enough value to be a strong contender.
The Greatest Danger to a One-Down Salesperson
The greatest danger to a One-Down salesperson is that there are plenty of One-Up salespeople in every industry, making it easy to recognize who is capable of being the client's business advisor, covering any gaps in their knowledge and experience. The One-Up salesperson's advantages in the sales conversation cannot be blunted by the outdated legacy approaches to sales.
Being One-Up creates a sustainable competitive advantage, perhaps the most powerful and durable advantage available, and one that isn't going to be easily overcome by a salesperson who is One-Down. This is true even if the One-Down salesperson works for the largest and most successful company in their industry.