In a world where sales leaders and sales professionals are hyper focused on crunching numbers, sifting through data, filling their pipeline and managing their CRM, not nearly enough attention is given to how to master the sales conversation once the prospect has been engaged.
According to The LinkedIn State of Sales Report 2020: U.S. Edition, the top 5 traits buyers value in salespeople include:
If you were to summarize all of these desired qualities into one word, that word would be influence, or the ability to influence buyers and their buying decisions.
Sales reps are not closing more deals, consistently, predictably and profitably, because they simply don’t know how to properly influence the buyer and lead them to making the decisions that are in their best interest, without creating sales resistance, or crossing the line over into the pushy and aggressive stereotype we all ghost and avoid.
Below is a list of ten essential steps a sales professional must take to masterfully facilitate an effective sales conversation, that results in a buying decision:
1. Adequate Preparation - Don’t leave anything to chance, learn all you can about the person, people and company before you engage in the initial sales conversation. Do your research and understand as much as you can about their business and potential challenges they face. Also, have a predetermined goal and outcome for the meeting in mind, prior to every conversation.
2. Let Go of the Agenda/Result - As sales professionals, we have a tendency to have one goal in mind - to make a sale. Let go of the result and the outcome, and focus on solving problems and adding aligned value from the beginning, and throughout the entire sales process. The results will take care of themselves if your prospects/customers best interest stays your primary focus.
3. Connect with the Individual(s) - So many salespeople approach the sales conversation the same way with every person they speak to. We’ve got to remember that each individual is wired differently, has different motivations, and is driven to achieve their own unique outcomes. We must connect with an individual as an individual, and fully understand them, if we expect to build trust, relationship and carry out a successful and productive sales conversation.
4. Establish a Peer-to-Peer Dynamic - This one can be tricky, especially when we’re playing the role of a salesperson, but it’s important to establish a mutual respect and peer-to-peer dynamic for the conversation, from the very beginning. Taking the initiative to set the tone, layout an agenda, and walk-through expectations helps to establish that dynamic from the very beginning.
5. Listen to Understand, Not to Respond - People buy when they feel understood, not when they understand you as a salesperson. Make it your number one goal to fully understand what they're going through, and demonstrate that understanding throughout the sales conversation.
6. Ask Questions that Surface Problems, and Provoke Thought - Asking questions for the sake of asking questions will get you kicked out of an opportunity fast. Make sure your questions have purpose, and that purpose should be to uncover problems and provoke thought about how they are approaching the problem-solving process. Then, share insights and distinctions that help them see options and solutions they may not have previously considered.
7. Offer Education, Distinction and Insights that Promote Self-Discovery - It’s one thing to ask people what they think, or even tell people what they should think, but it’s a game changer when you can leverage your knowledge, understanding of your industry and their industry, and innovative insights you’ve drawn from previous conversations, to ask questions that get buyers to self-discover potential solutions. People support what they help create, and if you can get them thinking in line with your products, services and/or the solution you can provide, you’re creating momentum and buy-in throughout the sales process.
8. Advance the Conversation Appropriately - Remember that small, specific commitments are easier to take, and "the more specific your request, the less pushy it comes across." This also keeps sales resistance from rising, and minimizes the number objections you have to handle as you move toward gaining final commitment(s).
9. Use a Call Continuum as a Basis for Productive and Relevant Follow Up - Think about your favorite TV show, and mimic that flow in all your sales conversations. "Last time we talked about . . ., this time we will discuss . . ., next time will look at… " If you consistently do this, it always gives you a reason to come back and follow up in a productive and relevant manner.
10. Establish Mutual Commitments - Before you wrap up the current conversation, agree upon small commitments and actions that both you and your buyer will take before you meet the next time. If it’s the final meeting, get the decision and commitment you need to finalize the agreement.
Use this list as a roadmap and a checklist. With practice, like anything else, you’ll get better and stronger until it becomes second nature, and you simply flow through the process, and facilitate a conversation that’s mutually beneficial, establishes a trust and authority, and actually closes more business without the use of high pressure, slimy or aggressive tactics that reek of the 1980's and ' 90's.