How to Start a Sales Conversation…
Starting a sales conversation when you lack the confidence or experience to do so, is a topic that came up on a call with a new client recently and, one that I thought it would be valuable to visit here.
The client’s concern was that their sales people struggle to start and continue a sales conversation when it’s anything more than reacting to a specific request or problem. As a consequence, their sales people are failing to build relationships; to really understand their customers’ businesses, challenges and goals and, subsequently, to identify opportunities.
Below I have shared some sales tips on how to start a sales conversation and then keep it going:
Prepare Insights and Value Hypotheses before the call
The key to getting over the first hurdle is to be prepared. You need to have a reason to talk and for that you will need to be confident that you can genuinely add value to their business. Preparing insights and value hypotheses before the call provides direction, purpose and, most importantly, value to the conversation. A word of caution, though – I have seen so many sales people get themselves stuck in the research stage because they feel they can’t possibly call the customer/prospect without having every piece of information to hand. At this early stage, you’re developing a hypothesis based on the facts you have to hand – you cannot possibly find out everything without talking to your customer. Critically, it is this process of talking to your customer, of asking them questions, that allows you to build the relationship, understand their goals and priorities and find a solution that delivers real impact for their business.
Reflecting on your own objectives and intent is a useful exercise for sales people. If you’re in sales, you should have a genuine and authentic desire for mutual benefit. Put simply – you can’t fake it. If you enter into the conversation with only your own objectives in mind, you are more likely to skip straight to the easiest solution, which is unlikely to be the one that delivers the greatest value for your customer. Rushing the process like this will only serve to make you appear desperate and self-serving.
It may be helpful to think of starting a sales conversation as being a bit like a first date. To start with, you will probably have found out as much as you can about the other person before meeting them, to ensure the meeting is likely to be of mutual benefit to both parties. Similarly, once on your date, you’re not going to sit talking about yourself the whole time, asking no questions of the other person. On the contrary, a first date is a discovery meeting – an opportunity to find out whether a second meeting might be something you’d both be interested in pursuing – and so you ask questions and lots of them. You look for similarities and commonalities to help you develop rapport, connection and even start to build trust.
When talking to your customer, just as on a date, questions allow you to uncover what’s really important to them – their needs, challenges and pain points. Furthermore, delving deeper with your questions uncovers the impact of those things. It is understanding this impact which will allow you to identify where and how you can deliver value to your customer.
If you’re looking for a useful questioning structure for your customer conversations, take a look at our GRID framework.
Have the Right Mindset and Approach
Sales people who lack the confidence and/or experience to open sales conversations can have a tendency to rely on scripted approaches. Whilst structure to your sales conversations is essential, sales people must move away from the idea that conversations must be scripted.
The word conversation itself is defined as “an informal talk….” and that’s how it should be – relaxed and easy flowing, just as a conversation would with a friend. If you set your focus on finding out as much information as you possibly can (adopting the ‘first date’ approach) and displaying genuine interest, you’ll find the questions just come naturally.
Build your Confidence
If you still find your confidence lacking, there are a couple more things you can do. First and foremost, you must build your knowledge, and address the confidence you have, in the products/services you’re selling. It can be helpful to make a list of all of the ways in which your product/service/company adds value for its clients and you’ll need to move beyond just a list of features and benefits. If you’re new to the company, ask colleagues about previous projects – it’s always helpful to have case studies to hand. Building a picture of just how good your products/services are helps enormously when identifying and articulating value for your customers, as well as giving you greater confidence when it comes to negotiating.
Secondly, you need to practice. For the majority of sales people, there is no chance to practice until you’re in the live environment and, whilst this will of course help in the long-run, if you can find opportunities to practice beforehand, you’ll significantly increase your success rate. Sales scenarios and role-plays offer the opportunity to practice every stage of the sales process in a non-consequential environment. The top 5% of sales people practice because they know that, just like any other skill – whether it be running, playing the piano, plastering – it’s only through practice that we can really improve.
Talk to your sales leader about practice opportunities, pair up with colleagues, or even get your partner or a friend to help you. At Salestrong we organise virtual practice sessions, in which the sales person practices sales conversations with a trained professionals, receiving constructive feedback as they go. The length and number of sessions is completely flexible, as is the timing, with the sales person being able to opt for times convenient with them. Click here for more information on our sales practice sessions.
And Finally, Keep the Conversation Going…..
There’s a high probability, of course, that your first conversation with a prospect won’t result in a sale, or even a proposal. We know that 80% of sales require 5 follow-up calls after the meeting, but that 44% of sales reps give up after 1 follow-up. Once you’ve made that first step, it’s important to maintain the relationship going forward, even if your prospect doesn’t need anything from you at that point. Let them know about new products/services that are relevant to them, check in when there are changes that impact their industry, share details of content and events that could be of interest to them. The conversations you have should be relevant to them – if you have these types of conversations, you’ll find you have much greater confidence picking up the phone – knowing that you have something that is of genuine interest and relevance to them and building trust with your customer as you go.