Written by Ari Greenbaum, co-founder of conXpros
In a recent blog post from May 22, titled Guiding your prospect to a clear “yes”, I focused on the skill of clarity of thought and speech. This article will focus on clarity done at the highest level, the art of conversation. I have searched far and wide for a definition of “sales process”. Much to my surprise, there are none! I found the term “selling” which was defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “the job and skill of persuading people to buy things”. I will not attempt to discredit this definition, but it is extremely misleading when trying to understand how to achieve success in the profession of sales. Because of the lack of definitions available for “sales process”, I will offer you my own:
Sales Process: two individuals engaged in a conversation where one is identifying the needs and issues of the other, while working towards a mutually beneficial solution.
The key term in my definition which is often overlooked by sales people; CONVERSATION. Far too many sales people disregard conversation and replace it with confrontation. I am not sure of the origin of this approach, but I do know it has about as much chance to successfully move a prospect to agreement as you do to make money appear out of thin air. In other words, it is not going to happen. Yes, sales have been made throughout history by caveman like salespeople clubbing the prospect over the head and dragging then back to their cave, and more will be made in the future, but these are not what I describe as successful. A successful sale does not leave the buyer feeling used and abused, or like they are in need of a shower. Those types of sales do not lead to referrals or repeat purchase, frequently lead to buyer’s remorse and backing out of deals often before the ink on the contract dries. Salespeople treat the selling process as a war. Just like in war, the more battles won typically dictates the victor, similar is their approach. If you examine world history, since the first conflict between nations or groups of people, the result has never been gained respect, admiration, love, or connection from the people who suffered defeat at the hands of the conquering nation. To me the answer is simple; when one is conquered by force, mutual respect and connection is an impossible result.
Confrontation is the destroyer of relationships. If you ever find yourself being confrontational with a prospective buyer, back off! You must remember that many times the barrage a prospect is throwing at you, has little to do with you and more to do with their own previous experiences or trepidations. You must remain focused on connecting through conversation and disengage from confrontation. If you want the prospect to hear what solutions you have to their problems, you must avoid confrontation at all cost. You may get a few people to say “yes” by forcing the issue. Real sales pros understand the objective is not just getting the “yes”, rather helping others to meet their needs and solve their problems. We must make peace with prospects, not war.
Many sales people confuse conversation as building of rapport. Often engaging in fluffy “conversation” with their prospect such as familiarity of places, similarities of likes, and opinions about events. While this may be fun “conversation” to have while hanging out with your friends, it is very different from what I define as conversational selling. I believe rapport is established by building confidence and trust in your product and yourself, clearly showing the customer that meeting their needs is your highest priority, and through your professionalism. Personally, I have never done business with someone because we lived in the same place in our past, attended the same school, were fans of the same team, etc. I, like most people, do not make buying decisions based on frivolous things like those listed. Rather with people we have a genuine connection to, whom we feel understand our needs and is capable of meeting them. When you are successful in this approach, the prospect does not get the feeling that they are being sold to or closed, rather that they are engaged with another individual who is trying to understand them and meet their needs. You instill the powerful feelings that you genuinely care, are interested in them, and value their thoughts and feelings. Customers also willingly remain in the selling process much longer and with less resistance when having a conversation as opposed to a pitch. I am not necessarily suggesting that you toss out your sales pitch or script and just talk to them with casual conversation. Such an approach is the gateway to inconsistency. However, I am suggesting that you work to incorporate conversation into your selling process, so you too can experience all of the benefits this approach affords you.
You must also understand from a buyer’s perspective the difference in how typical selling processes and conversational selling processes affect their attitude and response. There is unfortunately a stigma that the sales profession has endured for decades, which is the image of a “salesperson” that spends their days convincing and persuading people to buy things so they can earn a commission. As a result of this misconception, buyers often start a sales interaction on the defensive. Until prospects have a justification to put their defenses down, they remain ready to defend their hard-earned dollars. When you enter the selling process with a conversational approach, the defenses do not necessarily disappear, but they do reduce significantly. You will help make the person you are engaged with more comfortable and confident in the fact they can rely on you to help them instead of sell to them. Let’s not misunderstand anything here; you are selling to them and doing so at the most accurate definition of selling. The difference is, because of your ability to transform selling into conversation, the prospect does not feel the need to fight every effort made to help them. The ability to be conversational and still sell is one you must put great effort into mastering. The rewards are phenomenal.
Using Conversation in the sales process:
Many people describe conversational selling or consultative selling very differently than what I am about to share with you. Many sales “experts” will also suggest that you should follow up with prospects as part of your sales process. I do believe in follow up, but only as a necessity for prospects that you were not successful moving to a “yes” after an exceptional level of persistence. The approach others typically teach when describing conversational selling leads to large “funnels” of call backs and follow ups. I use conversation as a tool to close as opposed to the whole process itself. Your use of conversation is what will allow you to remain engaged with the prospect far longer than the typical sales call, and move you closer to the agreement which consummates a sale being made. Through conversation you will do the “paving” I spoke about in the post on clarity, when I referred to a “paved road”.
Use conversation to move through the three primary parts of the selling process: 1. discovery/interview, 2. presentation, and 3. addressing questions, concerns and objections. I will break down each of the sections to provide some additional clarity which will make the conversational approach successfully work for you.
- Discovery/interview: During the start of the selling process, you should engage the prospect with what I refer to as the discovery stage. Yes, as the name indicates, you are discovering important information about the buyer, but it must be done with great care to avoid the feeling of interrogation or simple fact finding. The best practice to accomplish this is to predetermine (using clarity of thought) the questions you will be asking but also map out a flow to them. Incorporating smooth transitions between questions has a huge impact on your successful discovery conversation. You must show through your delivery and tone that you have a genuine interest in learning about the prospects needs and problems, as opposed to just looking for “ins”, or even worse, just going through the obligatory asking of questions before you can pitch someone. The ability to apply empathetic listening, or listening to understand (I plan to cover this topic in detail with a future post) as opposed to the typical listening to respond that salespeople often do, allows you to infect the prospect with the feeling that you genuinely care. The entire discovery process should resemble a conversation between yourself and a close friend. Just as with a friend, the conversation is natural and flowing, the same should be the goal with the prospect.
- Presentation: I am a believer that you should have a set presentation or “pitch” which provides needed structure to the selling process. With that being said, in the discovery process you must effectively learn how to identify the needs of the prospect so you can make the adjustments in your presentation that directly tie the features & benefits of what you are selling to their need(s). This section of the selling process is the least “conversational” by nature, but you should incorporate conversational aspects into your pitch. Although you are giving the run down on your product or service, the ability to tie the benefits to the needs of your prospect give the feeling that this is not a scripted pitch, rather one intended for them and only them. The result is that they feel like you are genuinely interested in helping them, and thus more open to your suggestions of solutions. It is also important to use conversation at this stage to avoid the monologue that many sales pitches become. Simply inserting engaging questions into your presentation allows you to incorporate a conversational flow as well as gain valuable acknowledgements that your prospect is understanding and in agreement with your presentation of solutions.
- Answering questions/Overcoming objections and concerns: In this stage of the selling process, conversational selling takes on a different look than the previous two stages. You will already have become aware of the needs of the prospect in the discovery stage and your product or service should already be tied to those needs by way of the presentation. I do recommend that you develop if you do not already have an array of closes or rebuttals for any potential objection or concern you can possibly hear. But just like in the presentation stage, where I suggest a “pitch”, these responses are more of a guide for you to incorporate conversation leading up to the close or within the close itself. When a prospect states an objection, rarely do they express the real concern or issue, rather it is typically masked in a “blow off”, generalization, or excuse. If your only focus is to address these initial words, you rarely will move the prospect to a “yes”. The key is to uncover the true issue or that is motivating the hesitation. Look past the symptoms to find the cause. Focus on finding out the “why”. This is best accomplished when you use discovery-oriented questions in a conversational flow to identify the “drivers”. When you are effective at using conversation to uncover the cause as opposed to the symptom, you are then ready to address the concern with your predetermined and well-practiced close. You must use conversation to control and guide the prospect down a path which helps them understand their own core issue, shows them that you also understand it, and of course that your solution (or close) logically makes sense. The better you become at this style of discovery and solution closing, the higher your closing percentage will climb.
As with any aspect of success, you must put in massive action in order to reap the rewards. Incorporating Clarity of thought/speech and Conversation requires practice to be good, more practice to be great, and some more practice to be exceptional. Practice will not make perfect, but it will put you on the path to becoming a beast. It is also important for you to remember that this takes time. Planting a seed will only bear fruit in the future.
Over the last few months, I have shared posts that focused on what I refer to as the 4C’s of closing: CONFIDENCE, CONSISTENCY, CLARITY, and CONVERSATION. These are the foundations and fundamentals for success in selling at high levels. There are many additional traits, qualities, skills and characteristics that I will elaborate on in future articles. Just like anything that lasts, the foundations must be strong. By focusing on the 4C’s, you will build your foundations and find tremendous success. Stay tuned for more to come…