Sales Challenges: Ideal Conversations That Lead to Sales
The best the job of sales gets is when a solution is applied to a problem, clicking together like two puzzle pieces. “That’s a great idea” are magical words that precede the profitable sale and the handsome commission. But before the check is held by the happy rep, before the purchase order is cut, before the client shakes his head in final approval, before objections are given then overcome, and before the solution is presented, comes The Conversation.
The Conversation is a dialogue, a back-and-forth between sales rep and customer where business needs are discussed, challenges are presented and a solution proposed. Open-ended questions are asked and the client speaks, not to the specifications of the job, but to the goals of the business in general, allowing the sales rep to come up with an idea instead of just a price. On a flow chart, the process would look like this:
Conversation -> Discovery -> Great Idea -> Solution -> Sale -> Commission Check
In the ideal conversation, the client says things like, “Here’s what we are trying to accomplish … ” or “The problem we are having now is ... ” or “What I’d like to have happen is ... ” and out comes the exact information needed to move from ideal to idea to sale and all the way down to that new Indian motorcycle the sales rep has coveted. The sales rep listens intently, expanding the dialogue with additional open-ended questions while silently formulating a print solution to present at the right time.
The challenge is getting into those dialogues, those ideal conversations. With buyers and decision-makers building electronic walls around themselves made of voice mail and caller ID - not to mention ignored emails - they separate themselves from solutions, ideas and salespeople like a moat around a castle.
Overcoming this gap and entering into the ideal conversation happens either when the drawbridge is lowered from the customer side or a bridge is built from the shore where the sales rep stands.
• When trust and credibility are built. But selling trust is a formidable challenge for any rep. “Trust me, I’m in sales” is a statement that is cart-before-the-horse hard to prove without first being given an opportunity. That makes it a better T-shirt slogan than sales pitch.
Only by acting in a trustworthy manner (the result of kept promises, like leaving “I’ll try you again tomorrow” voice mail messages and then actually calling tomorrow as promised) and demonstrating subject matter expertise (see the content-creation bullet point below) will give the impression that a rep has game.
• Through persistence and skill on the part of a sales professional who approaches the customer from a point of problem-solving, not cost savings. For example, let’s say an RFQ goes out and a rep calls with questions designed to learn the story behind the job. Because the buyer does not have answers, the rep is put in touch with the decision-maker and the conversation ensues.
• Because more than just a price is offered on a SEO/SEM lead. The “You’ve got mail!” chime sounds, indicating that someone has entered a request for pricing through the website. Whip up a number, reply quickly, and you’ve exhibited excellent customer service and responsiveness. However, you’ve also missed an opportunity.
The customer has a solution in mind and wants a price, but is it the right solution? They want a banner, but failed to recognize the need to ensure the colors won’t fade as the banner sits in the sun all day. Looking beyond the specs and asking those open-ended questions like, “What is the purpose of this piece?” engages the customer.
Suddenly, your value and expertise are demonstrated, your input welcomed and price is no longer the discerning factor. Instead, your better solution is.
• Through content-creation in the form of a White Paper. Imagine writing a two-page document titled, “5 Mistakes Trade Show Exhibitors Make,” and then posting it on your website, downloadable only when some basic personal and demographic information is given in return.
Anyone who requests it instantly identifies him or herself as a prospect for the print solutions that accompany trade shows. By following up and engaging with the prospect, a conversation ensues, needs are expressed - and ideal turns into idea, turns into sale, which turns into commission. Voila! New motorcycle.
• When a video depicting a success story sits on your website. You did an amazing job with a client and they are thrilled. By telling that story through a quick video, you display the solution and others can see your work. One day, the phone rings and the caller says, “Cool video. I’ve got that same problem. Can we talk?” Yahtzee! You’re being invited in at the idea stage of the job, not at the quote stage.
• As a result of networking. The importance of making, sustaining and developing relationships as time passes cannot be overstated. Connections allow you to skip the junior players within an organization and give you the opportunity to sit at the “cool table” where grownups make decisions. Being in that conversation means the only time price is discussed is when someone says, “Oh, and we’ll need a price for the PO.”
• Through sheer diligence. Sometimes it’s not skill or talent or creativity. Sometimes, due to your sheer persistence, you are rewarded with an audience and the chance to present your idea.
• To the sales curious. Those who see a selling opportunity where others don’t approach are already in the conversation. They are actually the ones inviting the client to join. It sounds like this: “I have an idea that will help you to launch that new product I read about on your website.”
To those who say, “Let’s talk about how I can save you money,” you invite the price war - which you helped to create and feed — and then complain about. To those who say, “Let’s talk about your business challenges,” you take a path toward the conversation that you want. The drawbridge is lowered and the client waves you into the castle.
The difference is understanding the goal of the sales call. Getting something to quote on is not the victory you want. It’s an exercise that benefits only the client and, even then, only temporarily. When a lower price comes along, you’re gone.
When the client or prospective client recognizes your value and expertise, and welcomes input and ideas, the outcome is quite different. It’s profitable and makes for a longer-term relationship. Your differentiator becomes your ideas, not your prices. You might not win every battle, but which would you rather lose to: a better idea or a lower price?