The Life: A salesman who admits he has nothing to sell may sound like a joke. But it is an actual sales technique that works, according to a UAE company which uses it.
Identify pain to relieve strain says Enoc
A salesman walks into a company and announces he has nothing suitable to sell.
This may sound like a the start of a bad joke, but the scenario - where a salesman is honest about whether they can actually help a business - is a strategy being used by a company based in Dubai to great effect.
The Emirates National Oil Company (Enoc) introduced the commonsense selling technique in response to an annual engagement survey of its employees, who wanted more training and development programmes, says Maggie Williams, a specialist in management and leadership development at Enoc.
The company launched a series of training initiatives, including a sales academy.
In the past, Enoc used the traditional selling method - focusing on price and the benefits of the product. "What we wanted to do is to move away from that approach to a more consultative approach," says Ms Williams.
The technique it introduced involves engaging the customer in a dialogue to "uncover their pain", or issues, and making no mention of the product Enoc is there to sell.
The approach often surprises the customer.
"Once you uncover their pain, and you have asked enough questions ... then you are able to say, 'You know what, I have heard what you have said but is it OK that I say no I can't help you?'" she says.
The technique has several benefits, including building trust with the customer and giving the sales team more confidence to approach bigger clients. "It has opened doors," says Ms Williams.
"Once they have listened to the client's story to say, 'Oh I didn't know that you had that. You know we have another company in our group that can tell you that. Would you like to talk to them?'" adds Ms Williams.
The company has noticed a "qualitative and quantitative" increase in sales, since the company started teaching the technique about 18 months ago.
The method was showcased at last month's Knowledge Cafe, a regular event held in Dubai for professionals who work in human resources (HR) and training.
The invite-only events run every two months and offer HR and training specialists the opportunity to network and share information.
"We normally have a guest speaker on a particular subject and then everybody gets to network and asks questions of that speaker," says Vanessa Hopwood, the director, business development at FranklinCovey Middle East, which runs the Knowledge Cafe events in conjunction with Qiyada, a learning and development organisation.
The events, while not held in a cafe, take place roundtable-style in an informal atmosphere with limited numbers so everyone gets an opportunity to contribute.
Participants vote to see which topics they would like to be addressed.
"A lot of networking will take place during the session but also after the session because they make contact with each other and then what's going to happen is lots of organisations are going to start partnering together and learning from each other," says Ms Hopwood.
And this can result in significant benefits for all involved, says Ms Williams, who attended previous Knowledge Cafes and volunteered to speak about Enoc's engagement survey and training initiatives.
"Sharing information for me empowers other companies to go on and do best practice. It is for the good of us all. It is for the good of the economy and the country," she adds.