After marketing has worked its magic and a lead has been successfully generated, nurtured and qualified, it’s time for sales to jump into action. Nine times out of ten that means a sales rep will now reach for the phone to speak to a potential prospect and get a sales conversation underway.
For any rep, but especially those who may still be a little wet around the ears, this can be a tense time. If it goes badly, then you’re unlikely to get a second shot at it, so you need to be playing your ‘A’ game from the start. The good news is that with the right preparation and armed with the right information, you’ll be well on your way down the road to success.
The first step towards starting a positive sales conversation is to realise that it is nothing more than a process. It is simply about two (or more) people engaging with each other. Calls may take place on different levels and within different timeframes, but ultimately it’s about reaching an agreement over the delivery of X (the product) in exchange for Y (money).
Historically, one approach favored by sales teams was to just keep talking and keep the pressure on until the deal was done. But today that just isn’t going to cut it. Thanks to the internet and advances in technology, the way B2B buyers now behave has been radically transformed. Well over 50% of buyers will do their own research before ever contacting a vendor. That means that sales conversations have also needed to change.
The secret to selling in today’s world is to take a consultative selling approach. Buyers will have no patience for listening to a sales rep rattle on. Instead, they want to feel understood, listened to and supported. You need to be doing all you can to build a relationship and get to know each potential client, so you can figure out how best to help them achieve their goals.
How to quickly lose a sale
Before we look at what you can do to make your sales calls even stronger, let’s take a look at what not to do. To run a successful sales conversation there are some common traps to avoid:
Not letting the customer speak
Not giving the customer chance to speak, and worse still, going on about yourself is a rookie error. Silence really can be golden and should form a key part of any successful negotiation. There’s a saying among successful negotiators that “whoever talks first, loses”.
Interrogating the customer
Slipping into an interrogation style when asking questions is a big no-no. Yes, be prepared and think about your questions in advance, but don’t rattle them off like a script. Instead, bring them in to play during the course of your conversation, rephrasing here and there if you need to. Being able to ask good quality questions is a core skill to work on and develop.
Being too passive
While you need to avoid completely dominating the conversation yourself, the reverse can also be detrimental. Listening is crucially important, but letting the customer run away with the conversation and never getting a word in isn’t going to do you any favours either. Listen and interject intelligently with solid statements and good questions.
Focusing on features not benefits
Make sure you understand what key features and benefits your product/service has to offer and know the difference between the two. You need to avoid talking too much about features and instead focus on the benefits. For example, knowing how many gigabytes will fit on an iPod won’t mean much to most people, but saying you can carry 1,000 songs in your pocket will. The benefit is what a buyer will be most interested in.
Not knowing the answers
If you’re going to go into a conversation lacking the right information, know-how and research, then you may as well stay at home. Today’s B2B buyers are knowledgeable, so you better know what you’re talking about. Be fully prepared, including spending time researching the buyer, before you call.
Offering discounts straightaway
This is a rookie mistake. If you end up facing a skilled negotiator they will recognise this immediately as a weakness and potentially exploit it. Know the value of what you are offering. If you aren’t convinced yourself that it is good value, then you will have a problem selling it. Know the value, know how to argue it and do not start with discounts. Pricing discussions should never be about the price, they should be about value.
Coming across as desperate
This is usually the most difficult thing to master for young entrepreneurs starting out on their own, or a sales rep who needs to hit his/her quota and is running out of time. It’s very hard not to show that you really need the sale when you do. You’ve got to work on some mental exercises to help get control of the little voice in your head, so it doesn’t crash in and ruin your chances.
As well as avoiding these common traps, you need to be able to successfully prepare for, and execute tough conversations. This will take a combination of skills to perfect – most of which can be developed with experience, ongoing training and lots of practice.
The key to any sales-based relationship is the ability to establish trust. If you can’t then you’re unlikely to make the sale. Here are four top tips for building trust when you’re a sales exec.
1. Be a person. No-one wants to talk to a walking corporate brochure. There’s no need to overdo it and become overfamiliar, just aim to be as natural as possible. Showing that you are human and not a machine will go a long way towards building the trust that you seek.
2. Show competence and you’ll build confidence. As mentioned earlier, you’ve got to know your stuff. There’s no way around it. You need to be knowledgeable and competent in everything you’re talking about.
3. Have integrity. That means doing what you say you will. If you promise to email over further information by a certain time, do it. Also, always be punctual. Make small and big promises as often as you can and keep them. There is no quicker way to build trust than to promise something and deliver on it.
4. Create shared experiences. By this, we mean generate chances to see and be social with your customers face-to-face. Business lunches are one example that can work really well. Of course, you’ll need to weigh up time and expense versus potential benefit. However, if the deal is worth investing in, then go for it.
Research your targets
To deliver a successful sales conversation you need to understand who you’re talking to. Thanks to the internet, researching prospects is now far easier, so use it to your advantage. Get a feel for them, see if you can work out what their motivations, interests and particular needs are.
Before picking up the phone, check you know the following:
- Be sure you fully understand what the particular value proposition for them will be. Don’t just go in with a generic solution. Figure out at least one way that they will specifically profit from working with, or buying from you.
- Figure out appropriate stories to tell during your conversation and when specific triggers come up. These can work particularly well when handling objections. Prepare for the most common ones you may face, as well as thinking what objections individual prospects may have. People relate much better to stories.
- Understand their buying process. Do not assume, do your research and figure out how they make their purchases.
One final, very important tip – remember to recognise the progress you are making along the way. Be proud of how far you’ve come and of the skills you are developing. And when you finally nail it and make the sales call of your career, get celebrating!