Many fields establish best practices: when professionals have pursued an outcome over a long period of time, they often find the best way to achieve that result. In sales, the best practice may depend on the type of sale you’re making. You wouldn’t want to engage in a complex sale with a set of practices that would be right for a simple, transactional sale.
This post gives something different: a list of worst practices for complex, consultative sales. You should avoid these practices, but also understand why they don’t work.
Some years ago, a large part of the sales enablement community bought into the idea that Twitter and LinkedIn would soon surpass the phone as the best platform for prospecting. They believed that social selling would dominate opportunity creation.
Not surprisingly, LinkedIn devotees will often treat this worst practice as a best practice. Competitors will ask to connect with you and pitch you the very service you provide. These pitches will propagate, Tribble-like, every time Gary Vaynerchuk (for instance) speaks at a large conference of people who sell franchises.
Not targeting your dream clients means waiting for leads, calling on people who don’t buy what you sell, and wasting your valuable sales time.
The Straight Pitch
Some salespeople, though fortunately not many, will make a pitch to you right away, without any conversation that might allow you to explore a potential change. This is the natural outcome of abandoning targeting. When someone believes that anyone and everyone is a prospect, they easily share their product or service, believing that the product’s features and benefits alone will cause you to buy from them. (I’m looking at you, essential oils!)
Your sales approach matters a great deal—to you and your prospective client. You are not creating value simply by pitching your product, service, or solution. The value of your solution engages all the factors that are causing your prospective client to change. There is a time to pitch, and there are ways to pitch that are highly effective, but straight pitching your prospect isn’t one of them. It’s a worst practice.
There was a time when knowing about your company and your products was enough to win deals. But the age of the know-nothing has passed, and good riddance.
What makes being a know-nothing so awful is that you cannot serve your clients or create any real value for them. You are missing the business acumen, the situational knowledge, and the insights that would help them understand their world, their challenges, and their opportunities. Creating value means you have to be “one-up” about the decision your prospective client needs to make, meaning you must know more about it than they do.
The best practice here is to be a businessperson and an expert at the intersection of your business and your client’s business. While they know more about their business, you need to know more about how they can produce better results with your help.
Avoiding the Investment Conversation
Some older sales methodologies postpone any discussion of pricing until late in the conversation, often arguing that only enough discovery would show whether you had created enough value to justify the price.
This is a worst practice because it implies that the price is high enough to frighten your client away. It can also cause your client to overestimate the price during your earlier conversations while making it appear that even you don’t believe your product is worth what you are asking. Finally, it’s a bad idea to refuse to answer a client’s questions, especially because you are afraid.
In reality, the investment conversation is as easy as providing your client a price range and asking them to answer some questions, so you can help them understand what they would need to invest to acquire your help and the better results you can deliver.
Emailing Pricing and Proposal
One way to ensure very bad outcomes is to send your prospective client pricing and a proposal by email. The more you treat a consultative sale like it is a transaction, the more likely your client is to treat you like a commodity—and the easier it gets for you to lose control of the sales conversation. As worst practices go, losing that control is at the top of the list!
Once you hand over the email proposal and pricing, you are not likely to hear anything back, and any follow-up calls will just get you the kiss of death: “We are going to look this over in the next couple weeks and get back to you.” Chances are your prospect will never actually get back to you—just like the last eighteen times you heard that line.
“What the hell are you thinking, Iannarino?!” you might be saying. “My clients aren’t close enough to drive over and hand them a proposal and pricing. By the way, there’s a pandemic going on, you know?” Yes, I know. And yet, you have spent the last six months on Zoom meetings—and so have all of your clients and prospects.
Deliver your proposal in person, or at least as close to in-person as you can get.
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