White, silver and black. Those are the three most common car colors according to my Google findings. With that information in hand, my son and I assembled outfits comprised of similar colors. We were planning a covert operation and were in need of camouflage. Our mission was to shop for a new car while remaining undetected by the gaggle of over-zealous, over-caffeinated salespeople, all of whom were poised and ready to pounce at the chance of putting us into the car of our dreams. Of course, our mission failed! We barely got on the lot before being spotted. The question is; why did I go to such lengths to avoid having to deal with a salesperson? Well, like most people, I detest being sold.
In today’s knowledge-based economy, people don’t want to be sold, they want to be heard. They expect to be able to voice their needs and wants. They will seek out information on their own terms. But, salespeople still need to sell and win new business, so how is that accomplished? It all starts with a basic understanding that sales is not transactional, it’s relational, and every good relationship starts with a conversation. The word conversation is defined as “an informal exchange of information”. The key element of that definition is the word exchange. Gone are the days of the “pitch”. People don’t care to hear about how awesome your product is, or how committed your company is to excellence. What people want is for you to listen to them more than they have to listen to you.
I work with many organizations helping them to have better sales conversations and build relationships with their customers. I teach a 5 step process which I have found to be effective and digestible. I thought that I would share that here in hopes that you find it of value.
Step One: Purpose
Before you ever pick up the phone or schedule a meeting, make sure you have a solid understanding of your purpose for doing so. It may sound obvious but, it is frequently overlooked. What is the goal for the call and what is the desired outcome? Studies have shown that it can take 7 or more interactions to close a sale. So, if this is your first call, it would be unrealistic to have the objective of closing the business. Yet, this is where most start. Rather, you should have a more reasonable purpose. For example, getting them to talk about a specific challenge, or open up about their business in order to entice a further investigation of your offered solution. Remember, you are looking to have an exchange of information.
Step Two: Research
As I mentioned earlier, we live in a knowledge-based economy. It is important to start a conversation with a basic understanding of to whom you are speaking. Again, before you ever pick up the phone or show up for a meeting, do your research. Learn what you can about the company and the individual with whom you will be conversing. You should look for overlap, which would be any place where you or your company intersect with them or their company. It could be a shared customer, interest or even a common challenge. Finding that overlap helps to solidify a real connection.
Step Three: Question
Here is something that is very critical to grasp. People like to hear themselves talk not you, and if they are given the opportunity to do so, they’re much more likely to share what is important to them. So your job is to ask open-ended questions that will get them to talk. Refer back to both your purpose for the conversation and the research you have done. Together, those should help guide the development of your questions. The more open ended and well developed the question, the more detailed and informative the answer.
Step Four: Listen
This is the most important step in the process. I have written extensively about the basic human need to be heard, cared for, valued and respected. You can meet that need by being an active and reflective listener. Let them talk, give them the space to share. An active listener is engaged, physically and mentally. A reflective listener validates the speaker by rephrasing and repeating what it is they heard. For most, this takes a lot of effort and practice. We tend to want to jump in when we feel we have value to add. But trust me, there is no greater way to add value to a conversation than to simply listen to what is being said.
Step Five: Ask
Here is something that is missed all too often, the “ask”. A talk becomes a sales conversation when you make the “ask”, and every interaction should end with just that. The “ask” is how you move the ball forward. Eventually, it is how you go for the close. However, in the early stages, the “ask” could be as simple as setting up the next meeting or getting them to join a webinar. It isn’t as important what the action actually is as long as there is one. Don’t just let things end, get some commitment to continue the conversation.
People don’t want to be sold, they want to be heard A sales person should not be a predator in search of her prey but rather, a farmer who is cultivating his field. Go have a nice conversation and build a new relationship. If you eventually sell something, that just makes it even better.
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Elliot Begoun is the Principal of The Intertwine Group. He works to grow businesses and business leaders. He helps companies tell their stories and build relationships with their customers. He helps leaders better connect and communicate with those whom they lead, and serves as a thinking partner to executives and their teams.
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