There are many variables that might influence the outcome of a deal. You might have the exact idea your client needs at the wrong time. The senior leader might choose a company they have used in the past, refusing to even meet with you. Two days before your big meeting, your company might be on the front page of the newspaper for some moral failure. Most of the time, however, the variable that will win or lose the deal is the sales conversation.
Your company is a good company, just like your competitors’. Your products and services are the best on Earth, just like your competitors’. You and your rivals both inflate what you sell by describing it as a solution. (Even cardboard boxes are described this way.) What's more, you and your competitors have the same sales conversation with your prospective clients in the same exact order, even when you believe you are differentiating.
Before we begin, let me challenge you to think about how we win deals. If you left your beloved company and walked across the street to sell for your current rival, would you be able to win your prospective client's business? I know this idea is distressing, but it’s important to understand the impact of the sales conversation. Would you be able to sell your competitor's product or solution, the one you now describe as inadequate for your client's needs?
You can win a deal without a slide deck, four-color glossy sales collateral, a CRM, a website, a proposal, a presentation, references, or any crutch we use in sales. The one thing you must have to win a deal is a sales conversation, the only vehicle for creating the value that causes someone to buy from you—or not.
The Critical Importance of the Sales Conversation
I’ve explained why your company and your solution don't differentiate you from your competitor, minus the color of your logos. I’ve also explained how having the same conversation in the same order fails to differentiate you. This is the necessary first step to recognizing how you win deals.
In sales, the contest isn't between companies and solutions. The contest is between the salespeople vying for the client's business. This makes the sales conversation the largest variable to success.
To create a new opportunity, you must have a conversation with your prospective client. To win that opportunity, you will need several more conversations, often with multiple people. The better these conversations, the better your chances of winning the client's business. But what makes one conversation better than another conversation? The answer is "the client's perception of value."
Unfortunately, your contacts don't find your marketing department's version of a sales conversation compelling or even helpful. Marketing believes the contact needs to know your company is a good and successful company; a safe choice. Your product leaders provide a sales conversation about your products and services, including all the features and benefits. They believe the details of the solution are responsible for winning deals. Sadly, these conversations don't score points for the contacts trying to improve their results.
When you walk into your client's office, you are on your own. Neither your company nor your solution can help you create value for your contacts.
The Value of a Sales Conversation
Imagine you were a decision-maker charged with a decision you are rarely required to make. To make matters worse, this decision is critically important to your company's long-term success. Getting it wrong will mean terrible consequences for you and your company. At the same time, you find yourself making this decision in a time of great uncertainty.
How valuable would you find a conversation about the history of the salesperson's company? How important would it be to listen to a salesperson sing the joys and wonders of their solution? If you believe you would need a different sales conversation, you are more than halfway to understanding why the sales conversation is the largest variable to your success.
As the decision-maker, would you find a sales conversation valuable if it helped you understand the root cause of your poor results? If it could prevent you from botching the decision, would you feel it was a valuable use of your time if a salesperson helped you understand the factors to consider, and the impact of certain decisions you might make? Considering you rarely make this decision, would a sales conversation be valuable if it helped you have the right meetings with the right people in the room? What if it helped ensure you have the consensus of your team (minus that rat, Jimmy)?
The True Variable Is the Sales Conversation
Sales leaders and sales managers looking for an edge should look no further than the effectiveness of their sales force with the sales conversation. The mistake many make is believing technology can improve the sales force's efficiency. Efficiency cannot improve effectiveness, and it does not create the desired outcome. You would be better off working to improve the value you create in the largest and most important factor—the sales conversation. It's also the greatest opportunity for the salesperson to differentiate.
The client will buy from the person they believe creates the most value. It is a tremendous mistake to continue to teach salespeople to differentiate themselves by describing their company and offerings. Instead, your effort should be directed towards improving the salesperson's ability to create value inside the sales conversation. It is the critical variable that, if improved, increases sales effectiveness and win rates.
To learn more, pick up a copy of Elite Sales Strategies: A Guide to Being One-Up, Creating Value, and Becoming Truly Consultative, my guide to modernizing your sales approach.