Every company or business must ‘sell’ its products or services to survive. As long as there is competition, there is a need for sales. It used to be that salespeople would lob fast balls of information about a product or service at a customer to make a sale. Hence the term sales ‘pitch.’ The problem with pitching information is that the customer’s response is to either swing to bat it away or duck to avoid it. Perhaps that is why the old-fashioned ‘sales pitch’ is being replaced with a better approach.
Whether face-to-face, on the phone or via some form of messaging or social networking, the method of selling in which information is spewed at a customer like a fire hose is largely ineffective in part because the pitch approach is a monologue, not a dialogue. Those still using that approach might consider ditching the “pitch” and instead treating the sales process as a collaborative conversation…. a dialogue in which the salesperson asks thoughtful questions, listens carefully to the customer’s answers, seeks to understand the customer’s needs, and offers a valuable solution to a problem. Here are the qualities of a great collaborative sales conversation.
Focus on the Problem
In the business world, there is this deeply held belief that people should never talk about negative things such as problems. Instead, they should be positive and only talk about opportunities. The premise is that by focusing on the positive, only good things will happen. Conversely, focusing on – or even thinking about – problems, pain, and other “negative” things will attract or cause bad things to happen. While this idea has dubious merit in general, it is simply wrong when it comes to sales. There is no better way to make people happy than by solving a problem that is causing them significant pain or hardship. The most revolutionary products and services solve problems and the best sales people are unabashed, serial problem-solvers. So a great collaborative sales conversation starts with a search to identify a potential client’s problem and fashion a solution. But since time is limited, that conversation should include the following qualities:
1. Be Concise
Less is more. Never have those words been truer than when it comes to sales. When a person is selling a company’s products or services, it is important for the initial conversation to be concise. The message should seek to identify the problem and provide only enough information to show the customer that there is a better way. If the customer then has questions, it is fine to answer those questions, but again always with a focus on brevity. If the information is either too technical or complex to be communicated in a concise way, summarize the main details. Get to the point as simply as possible. For example, if the customer’s problem is too much tax liability and a company provides a service that can increase tax deductions or write-offs and thereby reduce tax liability, the key is to focus on the benefit, not the intricacies of the tax code or the complex process to achieve the deduction.
2. Be Clear
Few people are inclined to buy something they just don’t understand. This is especially true of big ticket items. The more expensive the product or service, the more a customer will want to understand what it is and how it works. It may seem that being clear is the enemy of being concise. Not so. The goal is to be clear while also being concise. That requires an intimate knowledge of the product or service and a keen ability to translate complex or technical terminology or processes into simplified concepts that a customer can easily understand.
However, too many entrepreneurs, engineers, scientists, and technology folks launch into a lingo-laden explanation of the so-called solution without taking into account the experience, or interests, of the audience. This typically causes the audience to simply tune out both the information and the person delivering that information. It is best to avoid technical jargon. It doesn’t make a sales person sound smarter; just harder to understand. An ability to understand and then be understood clearly is a key skill that only the best salespeople possess.
3. Be Credible
This is an area that is often overlooked. Some think that the superiority of a product / service / solution is sufficient to convince would-be customers to do business. Not so. Why? Because after listening to enough sales pitches, would-be customers know that a lot of so-called sales pitches sound pretty good on the surface. Most sound plausible. However, not every product or service is perfect for every customer. Some are better than others, and customers know that a purchase should not boil down to whom has the best ‘sales pitch.’ Therefore customers are listening for the ways that the product is not the perfect solution for them. They are, in fact, searching for the fatal flaw.
That’s when credibility matters. Customers have come to understand that if they put their money behind experts who understand how the world really works — or at least the world of the product or service area that they are considering — then they will significantly increase the likelihood that their purchase will be useful and worthy. It is important to briefly and clearly explain the company’s credibility and expertise.
4. Be Compelling
This is an area that often stumps salespeople. How does one be ‘compelling’? Exactly what are the qualities or traits of being compelling? It starts with being clear about why people indisputably need what you offer. After all, being compelling for the sake of being compelling is megalomania… delusions of power and greatness. To be genuinely compelling is to be in service of a greater good. That then should be coupled with honesty. The product or service must be sold based on real facts. People can sense exaggeration and will become cynical and defensive. Lastly, to be compelling, it is important to get the person’s attention with a surprise… the “Aha moment”. That’s when the client sees the product or service with fresh eyes. That’s achieved with a story they haven’t yet heard. A fact they hadn’t expected. An insight they previously didn’t have. The Aha moment changes the perspective and adds to the argument.
5. Be Consistent
It is important to rehearse the main information to be discussed in any collaborative sales conversation. Although a conversation should not have the canned, practiced sound of a person delivering lines, the salesperson does have to know the information inside-out. That’s because sales is not just about what is being said, it is about how it is said. Once the salesperson knows and understands intricately the product/service’s benefits and value proposition, it is important to practice delivering that information. That rehearsal can take place either in the mirror or to real people. Only when a salesperson is confident about a product/service and how people benefit from it will that confidence come through in his/her voice and body language. Projecting confidence is key in any collaborative sales conversation.
6. Customize the Conversation
That said, it is important to remember that while a product / service may solve a particular problem, it won’t necessarily appeal to everyone in the same way. That’s because everyone is different. And even when they have the same problem, it is unique to them and their circumstances. Consider the example of the person with too much tax liability. Let’s be honest. That is a problem most people have (or at least think they have. Few people think they pay too little in taxes (except perhaps Warren Buffet and a few other gazillionaires). Most others think they pay too much in taxes. Yet, a discussion about a solution that would reduce tax liability cannot be a canned speech. It must be customized to take into account the person’s specific source of income, investments and situation. More than anything, a collaborative sales conversation must be tailored to the individual’s situation. That means taking rehearsed information and adjusting it as more information is gathered about the individual’s specific state of affairs.
7. Be Conversational
It may seem obvious – even redundant — to say that a collaborative conversation should be conversational. Let’s state the obvious anyway. It is important not to pitch a product or service…. but rather engage in a dialogue (not a monologue) about their problem and possible solutions. That will ultimately not only make the sale but win the customer long-term. By engaging in a collaborative sales conversation instead of high-speed sales pitch, a salesperson is more likely to make the sale. A conversation leads to real communication and understanding. True understanding and connection is what delivers sales.
More sales means a better bottom line for the company and a healthier paycheck for the salesperson. It should also mean more satisfied customers. Now that’s a winning proposition.
Quote of the Week
“One of the best ways to persuade others is with your ears; by listening to them.” Dean Rusk
© 2014, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.