If you could only teach one component of the sales process, what would it be?
I am writing a book on my own proprietary sales process. I would like to get some supporting insights from top sales people from around the world. Best answers may be used as supporting quotations in my book (with permission of course!).
As an account manager with a large carrier for the past 13 years, I have found that opportunity qualification is the most important part of the sales process.
By the time I am done with qualification, I will know who or what my hurdles will be, either internally or externally. What the buying criteria are and who is making the final decision. Most large deals are done by committee and these folks need to be sold on the solution as well but ultimately it will come down to one person. Also, a value proposition needs to be developed and will become part of the presentation once the data gathering is complete. Asking open ended questions and staying away from yes or no as much as possible is key...they really do want to tell you about themselves and their needs.
A good rep is someone who will listen and not talk their way out of a sale. Once data gathering (qualification) is finished, one should know if this is just a science project and/or they need multiple bids to satisfy Procurement. Sometimes a vendor/solution has been engaged and a verbal commitment made and the other RFP respondents waste time and valuable resources responding. Generally, do not devote a lot of time if a vendor has been chosen (your inside source will let you know) but if the current vendor has done a poor job of qualification, spend the time on the opportunity, you have a real shot at supplanting an embedded competitor.
All this said, it does take years of experience to read body language, recognize the questions they are trying to dance around and why, decide which of the drivers are being addressed and take the time to develop strong and trusting relationships via face to face meetings with a client. One can not build a strategic relationship via video or the phone. If a strategic sales position does not come with a travel budget it will under preform or outright fail. This is a complex process and only some key points outlined but I hope it helps.
Here is one for another chapter:
One of the most unrecognized threats to successful selling is leadership. A strong representative will pay exponential dividends working under an experienced manager with a backbone who will stand by his/her team both within the company and in front of the customer, if warranted. I have had one manager out of eight (same company) who took the time to mentor me and help me become a better seller, just one. A weak leader kills morale, inhibits creative thinking and leads to an under-performing module or a rotating sales door.
There have been times when I have gone out of my way to keep my manager away from my client because I was told not to bring them back to my contacts office, recently this person was promoted to a Directorship. I can only assume this is how some companies fire under-preforming managers.
CLOSING! It is a lost art form in today's society of "be my friend" mentality. The fact is that people today are not the hard sellers that once drove the economic boom.
Its not hard to smile at a client, it is not even particularly hard to find common ground to build report. Its not difficult to recite a presentation. It IS difficult to overcome objections and get a client to sign on the dotted line.
Hi Dave, I personally believe that prospecting is always overlooked in sales training. Most people think that Star Sales people should know how to prospect and don't put that much attention to it. However my research has found that many businesses (owners, entrepreneurs and managers/ sales reps) don't spend enough time on prospecting activity. As a society we always think of prospecting in terms of cold calling. Prospecting is so much more than that. It's the activity you do before you start generating leads. In fact, it's the only activity you really need to put your focus on as a business.
Let me give you an example: Take 2 sales people, one is the worst sales person in the company and the other one is the best with the highest closing rate. Both working the same market and have the same product to sell.
The first (or worst) sales person does one thing very well, he prospects a lot. His conversion rate is only 1 out of 10. The best sales person doesn't prospect a lot but his conversion rate is 5 out of 10.
Lets say Sales Person 1 talks to 100 customers per week and Sales Person 2 only talks to 10 customers per week. SP1 will sell to 10 customers whereas SP2 will only sell to 5. I realize that this is very simplified but this is what happens in a lot of companies nowadays. Prospecting is completely neglected and although their sales reps may be great in generating revenue and closing, if they don't prospect enough the business will suffer eventually. Fears we have (from overcoming objections, asking for the sale, asking for referrals, not pushing enough for the sale are all part of the reason why we do not prospect enough. Take away the fear, you automatically take away the lack of prospecting and a business will flourish. Everything else can be taught in due course such as pitching, asking the right closing questions, asking for budget etc.
So, in my own humble opinion, prospecting is the key to successfully drive business forward and sales trainings/ sales workshops should focus more on this.
Think about it, everything else in the sales process is product and needs based. The activity you do before you generate a lead is the one thing that is based on your own emotions, how you handle yourself getting meetings or selling over the phone etc. If you don't do that, you will no longer have a viable business. Self-promotion is the key. Just my 5 cent. (and of course just an opinion based on my own experiences).
The art of having a structured conversation that naturally uncovers hidden opportunities and cost. This can reveal value that makes the "pricing objection" meaningless while establishing the salesperson as an invaluable and trusted resource.
I totally agree. Asking questions helps the prospect make an informed buying decision and positions you as a valued resource. As the old story goes, don't write a prescription before making a diagnosis. Ask questions, lots of questions, and never offer a solution before understanding the prospect's problem.
Many salespeople get in front of a prospect and they can't wait to tell their story.
It is much more effective to discover your prospects needs, wants and desires and then you can tailor your message to what they really want.
If you are a car salesman and an individual wants a 4 wheel drive heavy duty truck for their ranch which is located on a dirt road and you as the salesperson are talking to them about the latest sports car, then you have lost them.
If you ask questions and really listen to what they are saying and listen for what they really mean you will make many more sales.
How can you sell if you don't understand marketing and how can you market if you don't understand sales?
Kotter who is studied a lot in marketing states you need to match a product good or service to a customer need or want. How true in sales. Too many people "pitch" their product or service but don't identify needs before they try and sell or close the customer.
If you some key questions and identify needs you can custom your sales discussion with the prospective client each and every time so they feel like they have been listened to and heard and your firm can meet a need in the purchase process.
I think that a sales process starts with the "thing you want to sell".
If one starts with the "ask questions, listen, understand, etc" it suggests you are developing a solution and in most cases it looks like a scam.
You are selling cars and you provide an array of cars and financial terms to fit the customer. In this case you have to listen and understand the customer to suggest the solution that will make the most profit and fit the customer needs.
The need to "listen first" is related to the need to optimize profits in a sales solution.
But if you are selling a phone plan, the ability to expose the product and its features to the customer improve the ability of the customer to choose added value to it's sale experience.
Most sales do not worth variable profit margins without risking looking like a scammer. The ability to promote the value of a product during a sales event is done by exposure, enthusiasm and confidence. Otherwise a product is just a product and not "the product".
Teaching someone how to listen with enthusiasm and confidence is probably good but if that someone is not able to elaborate on the product with the same enthusiasm and confidence, most sales leads will not materialize.
You have made the perfect point. The Sales Process.
If your business still relies on the traditional sales approach of telling the client about your fantastic product or service then you will lose more business than you gain.
The modern buyer does not want to be told and sold.
He or she is a professional and knows what their business needs rather than wants.
You need to SELL your SALES PROCESS. One that exudes confidence in your business and its ability to be able to support the buyer in making the right decision for them.
Your process should be at the forefront of every salespersons lips. This is how we can provide you with the right information and specialist support from the beginning to the end of the sale; from delivery, installation and after sales service, combined with project management, regular discussions to make sure things are on track, and a plan of action to make things work, even when they sometimes don't.
The salesperson should be able to deliver the sale of" the process" in their sleep, and never get to sell anything else. The client gets to choose from beginning to end.
When your client describes you as their preferred supplier, you have reason to be proud.
As a salesperson with significant senior management experience and now working as a sales training consultant, I'd focus on the following skills that sit across all stages of the sales process.
Listening skills coupled with "Speed of Thought" (mental agility). If they listen but can't pick out the nuggets of gold then they'll always have problems and miss the big one.
If I'm allowed two - then number two would be to develop "conversational selling" skills. i.e. the ability to communicate effectively, ask big questions, pick out key nuggets and ultimately pitch, without sounding like a pre-prepared script reader or interrogator.
If I can have three, it would be to learn about business finance - understand how your product/service can help your client on his P&L / Balance Sheet / Cashflow etc. It moves you beyond product and talks about value.
If it is merely one part of the sales process that you're after then ongoing prospecting and pipeline management is the key area that salespeople neglect.
Hope this helps - look forward to reading the book ! Good luck.
My best advice is to know your industry and products so thoroughly that, once you ask your client the right questions to bring their needs and desires to the surface, it becomes easy to make the best possible recommendation for those needs. If you follow such an approach, while always keeping the client's best interest in mind, selling is one of the easiest and most fulfilling professions imaginable.