Getting a foot in the door and then keeping the pressure on until you land a sale may have worked for sales reps in the past, but in today’s fast-paced world of internet savvy prospects, it is a risky strategy.
The fact is, today’s buyers are sophisticated and well informed. They don’t need to rely solely on a sales rep to get the information they need to make a purchasing decision. What they do need is a person who really understands them and their needs, and can help them find the best solution.
When faced with modern buyers, a consultative selling approach is a secret to winning more sales conversations. But it’s also about understanding the structure of such conversations and making sure you have the basics covered, so next time you’re faced with a potential customer, you are in the best possible position to win them over.
Despite the name ‘sales’, it’s really about finding out what people want and then giving it to them. Of course, it’s never as simple as that in reality, but it’s still a far cry from pitching anything and everything to unsuspecting prospects and just hoping for the best.
The most successful salespeople recognise they are part of a conversation and they treat it as such. They don’t try to bulldozer their way through it. To be effective, you need to know your subject inside out and actively listen, before asking the right questions at the right time, in order to steer the conversation in the way you want it to go – all without ever turning it into an interrogation, or being too pushy.
It’s also never going to be a one-off. Sales conversations, particularly when it comes to B2Bs, will take place over time and with different people and objectives. The ultimate goal always being to do business together.
Every time you come into direct contact with a potential buyer you are in a sales conversation, which means every time it happens you need to hit them with your ‘A’ game. To get there you need to learn the theory and get practising with peers, so ultimately you’ll go out into the field and find success. That’s how you’ll earn yourself a healthy commission sheet.
So, what do we mean when we talk about the ‘basics’ of a successful sales conversation?
Whether you’re trying to sell something or not, aiming to build rapport should be your default setting when you’re talking to anyone. It is about finding some common ground and a mutual understanding, which can be a powerful element for any future dealings.
The easiest way to build rapport is by going into their world. You need to put yourself into their shoes. Start by asking questions about them and their world and truly listen without just trying to figure out what you’re going to say next. Without trust, no sale will take place. Building rapport is the first step along the path to building the trust that you need.
Create a shared reality. It could be something very small (we both have Irish names) or something big (we both like to go on adventure hikes). Whatever it is, create a shared reality first and be interested, rather than interesting.
Another way to create rapport, particularly if it’s proving tricky to find common ground, is to continuously verify the conversation. By this we mean repeat back to the other person what they have said, to show you have listened and understood them correctly. If you do this a few times on purpose, you’ll be amazed how often it actually isn’t as clear as you may have first thought. The verification will lead you to new information or insights that you can use for conversations moving forward.
Qualify, qualify, qualify
Lead qualification is an essential element of every sales conversation. It is best done by weaving it into the conversation, using questions that will help you figure out whether the prospect is truly a good fit. What you don’t want to find is that a really nice potential client you have spent time and effort carefully nurturing along is actually never going to buy from you – or at least, not anytime soon. (The reason that checking timeframes is also an important part of the qualification process).
Be honest, do they look good but smell bad? It’s easy to get excited about a new prospect when everything seems to be perfect – they’re the right type of company, they need what you’re offering, they have the money and intend to spend it soon – but something still feels off. Often that will be down to a clash of cultures. If you plan on having an ongoing relationship with a client, but you have very different cultures and ideas about how you will deal with each other, then the project will run into problems.
Try and avoid closing a deal that will turn into a nightmare once you start working together. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.
There is no such thing as a well-rounded sales conversation (whether it’s over the phone or in-person), without excellent preparation. Not only do you need to know your own stuff inside out, but you also need to know exactly who you are dealing with. Do your research before you make any calls and always take notes in your CRM, so the next time you speak to them you can learn from your research.
The other person will also have done their research. They’ll already know a lot about potential solutions and are likely to have looked into your company, and even you! Remember this fact and avoid ever coming across as patronising.
Every sales manual will tell you that one of the worst things you can do is sound desperate. Well, that’s easier said than done sometimes, especially when you need to close the sale or you face losing your job, having to close the business or any other difficult circumstances. The trick here is to realise that this is all playing out in your mind and nowhere else. Before you head into the conversation, settle yourself with the fact that the worst-case scenario is that this sale will not close. If that happens, you will have to look for the next possibility.
Ask yourself, is it really true that you would have to close up shop if you don’t manage to close this sale? In many situations, it may make your circumstances more difficult but if you continue going through your sales calls you will get an opportunity that will change the ship’s direction.
The same goes for less drastic scenarios, for example when you may be aiming to win an internal competition and all that’s missing is that one last sale. That’s another kind of desperation, but either way, it is best left at the door before you talk to a prospect. Take a deep breath and make sure you concentrate on them, not yourself.
Benefits vs features
Rookie sales reps always make the mistake of going into a sales conversation talking about features instead of benefits. But there’s an important difference. Technology giant Apple is a good example. They talk about their iPod having a 1GB hard drive (the feature), which means you can have 1000 songs in your pocket (the benefit). Which of the two facts sounds the most appealing?
Think what the benefits are of the product or service you’re trying to sell. You need to do your homework here. Know the value you’re offering with both your product and company. You need to have a deep understanding of what the value is and be utterly convinced of it. Once that happens, you’ll be able to go into any sales conversation and talk with certainty about the value you can bring to that prospect. Paint a picture of a mutual future in which the prospect has gained ‘xyz’ because of the benefits of your product.
Once you know the value of your offer, you shouldn’t have any fears about discussions based on price. That is because you will know the value you are offering and how it will benefit a prospect. Offering discounts always devalues a product. Elon Mask even famously wrote an email to his employees, explaining why they have an absolute, no-discount rule and how important it is to uphold it.
The easiest way to close…
It goes without saying that you should always have a goal when you go into any sales conversation. Know what you want to achieve by the end of it. In most cases, for B2Bs this won’t mean securing a sale right away. But it may, for example, be to get another meeting arranged.
When it’s time to end the conversation, remember to book that next meeting in and also start agreeing on plans – when will you talk again? when will the demo start? when is best for you to deliver the goods? Whatever it may be, simply start making arrangements.
Always ask yourself what the next logical step for the prospect will be and gently lead them towards that and along the buyer journey. Acknowledge their needs and where they are in their journey. If it’s not right, then never be afraid to walk away. A better one is likely to be waiting just around the corner.