Over the last twenty years or so, we have spent a lot of time and money using technology to help salespeople improve their efficiency. Some of these technologies have become central to how we operate in sales—the CRM, for instance, has allowed us to better manage our business and our client relationships. This makes us more likely to believe that every “new thing” is going to make a positive contribution to revenue growth and goal attainment.
While I love technology, I refuse to believe that the tool is more important than the craftsperson who wields it. Several years ago, many of my cyclist friends went out and bought the same bike that Lance Armstrong rode, not to mention the same riding outfits. None of these things made them better cyclists, just like buying a pair of Air Jordans did nothing for my eighth-grade basketball game.
Likewise, improving your sales results requires improving your effectiveness as a salesperson. Here are three key areas to develop, with some helpful hints on maximizing each area’s potential.
It has never been easy to get a meeting, and it’s not likely to get easier. Time is a finite, non-renewable resource, so smart and successful people refuse to waste something so precious. Prospecting, the very first interaction in the sales conversation, is difficult because you are asking your prospective client to give you the gift of their time. The reason some clients reject your request, occasionally with extreme prejudice, is that they don’t believe it will benefit them.
Increasing your effectiveness here requires providing enough value to command a meeting. You know what you are asking your client to give you, things like a chance to explore change and an opportunity to compete for their business. Your client knows that too, so your job is to convey the value that your client will receive by agreeing to the meeting.
Your other key task here is to resolve the concern behind every objection: the client’s fear that you are going to waste their time. The first no is free, but you have to earn the second no by asking again. Earning the yes instead requires a well-designed prospecting sequence and a clear sense of the value you offer. The better you manage the first conversation, the easier it will be for you to get a meaningful meeting with your dream client.
There is simply no way to overstate the importance of creating value for your contacts— the decision-makers and decision-shapers you are serving throughout the sales conversation. As much as you might want to tell them about your company’s story and the results you’ve produced for other people, neither your company nor your clients are as interesting and important as their own results.
The test of being truly consultative is being able to create value for your prospective client even if they never buy anything from you. Your conversation should be more valuable to them than your solution! Let me explain: what you share with your prospective client should provide them with the ability to improve their results, even if they execute the idea with a competitor.
Yes, sometimes a client does run off and buy from your competitor, even after you provide them with a higher-resolution lens. But it’s a risk you have to take: there is no way to be a smart and insightful value creator by withholding insight.
If your sales conversation doesn’t quite leave the client better off than before they met with you, you can improve your effectiveness and your results by fine-tuning your discovery process and the value you create.
At least in my lifetime, B2B sales have only gotten more challenging. By its very nature, the sales conversation is a dynamic, nonlinear human interaction, one marked by complexity. “Always be closing” has given way to “always gain the next commitment,” something that is especially difficult when your contacts try to impose a process they would prefer.
Selling combines opportunity creation, which we covered in the last two sections, with opportunity capture. The sales conversation needs to accomplish certain outcomes for both you and your client. Every conversation should move you forward, but because there are often multiple stakeholders with conflicting beliefs, contrasting ideas, clashing calendars, and different motivations, you can find yourself going backward.
If the conversation starts feeling chaotic and out of control, you need more effective commitment-gaining strategies. The more effectively you can make the case for what comes next, the more you’ll boost your overall effectiveness. There isn’t any substitute for the conversations you have with decision-makers and decision-shapers—they let you create opportunities and improve outcomes, so the best favor you can do yourself is to work on your conversational effectiveness.
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