It continues to amaze me when another new sales training program is launched or book is written. Sales performance is so important to both individual sales people and the companies that employ them that there is a seemingly insatiable appetite for some new, unique competitive advantage. This creates tremendous opportunities for sales training companies and would-be sales experts who promise the latest, greatest tactic. But is there really something new? Has buyer behavior changed so fundamentally that a radically new approach is necessary?
Here is How Buyer Behavior Has Changed the Conversation:
- What information buyers can get without talking to sales people
- Who they can get information from, i.e. sources they likely consider more credible than sales people
- How much information they have before speaking with sales people
Here is What Hasn’t Changed in Conversations with Buyers:
- Why buyers speak with sales people
- The model buyers use for evaluating various alternatives
- The customer service that sales people can provide to favorably differentiate them with EVERY buyer
In reality, there are now, always have been, and likely always will be just five essential conversations that every sales person should master if they want to differentiate themselves from their competitors, build stronger, longer-lasting relationships, and sell dramatically more.
Without further adieu, here are the Five Essential Sales Conversations:
Nothing new here. No matter what you sell, or to whom you sell it, you need someone willing to talk with you in order to demonstrate value. While social media channels like LinkedIn have created new avenues to reach prospects, they have also created so much content and clutter that generating interest can be extremely difficult.
To capture the attention of today’s busy buyer, we need a compelling reason for them to spend time with us.
And this requires that we already know something about them, some way in which we can bring meaningful value that helps them. Unfortunately, far too many sales people pitch a generic value proposition to every prospect they contact. A little energy spent finding a meaningful problem we can solve or obstacle we can remove will go a long way to generating enough interest to spark a meaningful conversation.
Understanding the Current Situation
Assuming we have been able to engage a key contact in a meaningful conversation, we must be an expert at efficiently understanding their current situation. This doesn’t mean we should be asking the CEO of State Farm what business they’re in, it means digging into key areas related to the impact we can have on their success to uncover the most significant opportunities to help them better achieve their goals, execute their plans, leverage their strengths, minimize weaknesses and so on. If the key to generating interest is finding a meaningful issue you can help a prospect address, the key to developing a deeper understanding of their business is to have a clear questioning model that helps us understand their issues, how these issues are impacting their success and any gaps between where they are and where they want to be.
Developing Decision Criteria
A significant proportion of all sales training is based on needs satisfaction selling. As we have written many times before,
identifying needs is important, but not sufficient for today’s sales professional.
If a buyer is willing to meet with us, there is a very high likelihood that they:
- Already believe we are one of several providers who can MEET their needs
- Need help figuring out which alternative is BEST
Questions here must be designed to help buyers figure this out, and help them make the best possible decision for their business. When skilled sales people understand their prospect’s current situation and the characteristics that differentiate one solution from the others, this step becomes the key to dramatically better sales results. At the end of the buying journey, nearly every prospect will choose the alternative they believe to be best for their situation. And most sales people devote tremendous energy at the end of the process to telling their prospects why they, the sales people, believe they have the best solution. A far better approach is to help shape the buyer’s criteria at the beginning of their journey. In reality, most buyers don’t have clearly defined, differentiating criteria – if they did, they would simply make their decision, often without even meeting with sales people. The seller who can master this conversation and leverage what they know about the buyer’s current situation, combined with an understanding of their competitive advantages, can simultaneously help the buyer and themselves.
Once we have generated interest, learned about our prospect’s current situation, and developed clear, differentiating decision criteria, we are ready to present recommendations. Here it is critical that we understand what motivates behavior – something that hasn’t changed about people for thousands of years.
We are wired to do more to avoid near-term pain than to pursue distant pleasure.
When presenting recommendations, it is essential that we not focus on the benefits (pleasure) our solution will bring as that is comparing future pleasure to near-term pain (the cost of our solution, risk of change, etc.). Instead, we need to show the pain of not implementing our recommendation in terms of the negative impact the current or competing alternative may have on the buyer in terms of the things they care about most, such as:
- Their productivity and efficiency
- The image they project to their people and customers
- Their revenue
- Their expenses
- The safety, security and stability of their organization, their information and their people
When we demonstrate to prospects how our solutions better address their criteria and have greater impact on these key areas, we are set to win at a dramatically higher rate.
Now for a dose of reality … no matter how effectively we execute the previous four conversations, we will still need to be able to address customer concerns. Note, we aren’t referring to this conversation as overcoming objections. For too long sales training programs have put too much pressure on sellers to overcome buyer’s objections. That isn’t the objective here, and it can completely ruin the trust built up during the other conversations. Remember, we are here, our only purpose in their journey, to help them figure this out. That same principle applies to this step. In order to achieve this objective, we need to get out of the telling mode, and get into the learning mode. We need to completely understand the concern from their perspective, including how significant this issue is and whether or not this is one of several issues or the only thing standing between them and what they otherwise want to do. We then need to engage in a collaborative session where we both contribute potential ideas in order to determine what can be done to remove this issue.
We are here to help, but ultimately only the buyer can decide what must be done in order to address a concern.
However, our skill at leading them through this conversation can make all the difference between addressing a simple issue and facing an insurmountable objection.
As we consider these five essential conversations, it is important to remember these three key points:
- A proper attitude can be as important as skill and knowledge. When sales people don’t fully embrace their role of bringing value to buyers, no set of skills or techniques can help them build the trust needed to reach their full potential.
- These conversations are interrelated, not linear. This isn’t a set of steps to follow, and what happens in one conversation can have tremendous impact on the others. For example, it is not at all uncommon to find the only way to address a buyer’s concerns is to develop a better understanding of their current situation or further develop decision criteria.
- Conversation models and practice are incredibly valuable at helping us master these essential conversations. Teams with a common understanding of the objectives of these conversations, and shared models for how the objectives will be achieved become significantly more effective than individuals working on their own.
Want to learn more about models for these essential conversations or any other sales issues your facing? Visit us today and www.axiomsfd.com, we are here to help.
Bob Sanders has more than 25 years experience in sales, sales management, and marketing. Bob has served as President and CEO of AXIOM Sales Force Development from 2006 to 2018. His passion about sales behavior and coaching helps develop people into their best selves. Since Bob joined AXIOM as a partner in the fall of 1993, he's helped dozens of companies around the world generate hundreds of millions in additional revenue. Bob holds a degree in Marketing from Miami University. He has been a keynote speaker at numerous corporate events and industry conferences. He is a founding underwriter and frequent contributor to the Sales Management Association. He co-authored AXIOM's “Selling Sciences Program™” workbook and audio program, and is a contributor on "A Journey to Sales Transformation". When Bob is not advocating on behalf of buyers and sellers worldwide, he is an avid cyclist, father, and husband.