As sales and business leaders, the pressure to lead our teams to perform and stay motivated during challenging times is nothing new. We’ve all experienced the ups and downs due to external forces that our experience has taught us to anticipate and plan for. But this… how could we have planned for a worldwide pandemic, trade-wars, wildfires, and socio-political unrest and division all at one?
I have led sales organizations for over 25 years, and I’ve noticed a few things that make a real difference in how they keep it together and emerge as winners through it all. Spoiler alert: there is no easy route, no one-size fits all approach, no bullet-proof process, that will keep that sales momentum up and generate revenue during this craziness.
There are, however, some hard-learned truths and best practices that are sales leader “must-do’s.” These 5 things will help you and your team engage with clients and have better conversations that are more productive for both sides and will help you keep an edge as you navigate these times.
5 Things to Do Now to Have Better Sales Conversations
1. Be Client Centric
This is one of the most often repeated pieces of advice, and perhaps the most overused: it seems that everyone says they already put the client first. But I have learned that doing this the right way is the most important thing you can do to engage clients and begin conversations that build long-lasting and mutually lucrative relationships.
Being client centric as a sales leader means approaching the client with their perspective/agenda in mind and bringing expert insights and actionable advice to help them with what they want to accomplish, fix, or avoid. A client-centric sales leader becomes an expert, your client’s trusted advisor. While this sounds simple, more often than not, sales organizations are so focused on the overall revenue targets that under stress, they resort to a “sell whatever you can, however you can” approach. While tempting, this will set your team even further back.
To adopt your client’s point of view, employ approaches like 180-degree thinking, or a tool like the Bates Audience Agenda framework, to uncover what is important to them as a stakeholder. Create an audience agenda with clarifying questions about your client’s role to refine their priorities. As an example, while you may be very excited about the bells and whistles in the latest release of your information management software, your client is focused on figuring out how to reduce redundancy and increase efficiencies so they can achieve their 15% revenue growth target this quarter. They want to hear about how you can help them do that.
By charting out your client’s needs, issues, and challenges in advance of a conversation, you can create a set of insightful questions that demonstrate you understand them and bring your experience with similar problems to the conversation. Your facility with the issues that matter to them will create a richer dialog and communicate your skill and expertise
2. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
You’ve probably heard of the old British military adage called the “The Seven P’s”: Proper Preparation and Planning Prevents Painfully Poor Performance – or some version of this. It is easy to chalk this up to an inspirational poster phrase, but great sales leaders know that every interaction with a qualified client or prospect should be treated as a “high-stakes” opportunity. This means investing the time to research, develop the right questions, and prepare for every conversation or touch point. Relying on your track record and “winging it” is not an option in this environment and can easily blow the shot at winning a client.
Well-crafted and insightful questions get your client to think and reveal more about their current situation and need. They also help build your credibility and reinforce your knowledge of the client’s business and their problem. The most effective sales leaders and their teams adopt a discipline around preparing for each conversation. They consider the following as they map out their questions in advance of each conversation, in writing.
- What is important, what are the client’s priorities, objectives, and challenges – and how do they differ by role and buying influence?
- What is required for me to demonstrate I can help with their problem?
- What mutual outcomes do we want to come out of the meeting?
Forget the dry, lengthy sales decks and demos. Come ready to listen more than you talk, capture what you learn, and use that to explore and understand what sorts of obstacles or objections a client may have to be prepared for the next conversation and moving the sale forward.
3. Build Credibility Through Story Telling
Credibility is the difference maker. How do you build and demonstrate it with a potential client? Credibility goes way beyond marketing collateral and client logos. It starts with being prepared with great questions, and with the information you need to provide your client to help them solve their problem. Where you really make the connection, and demonstrate your knowledge, is by being a master storyteller. Painting vivid and memorable stories of how you have solved the same problems with other clients and what happened as a result, with your advice and counsel, will close the gap and deepen the conversation. This is a real chance to stand out and be remembered as credible and trustworthy. The best stories are pithy, concise, and compelling. Telling these stories is not always a natural or easy thing for salespeople to do, so tap resources like the marketing team as a partner. We share tips on story telling for salespeople in this post too.
4. Raise the Bar and Get Strategic
Pull these first three steps together to raise the bar on the kinds of conversations you have with clients and prospects. This is about how collectively as a sales organization you have more strategic conversations with more decision makers. This requires a shift from talking about process to talking about business outcomes. As you move to strategic conversations, you go deeper into what’s driving the buyer’s need or challenge to uncover and discuss the strategic concerns they have, such as addressing a shifting marketplace, or pivoting to a brand new business model, or responding to broader industry trends. This requires a business mindset, and an investment in time to research not just your client and their company, but the industry.
5. Capture and Codify
Lastly, to successfully elevate and change the sales conversations, you need to develop a replicable, codified process and create a discipline that all of the salespeople on your team can follow. The process needs to capture the full range of elements to prepare for and conduct high value conversations, including: creating buyer profiles; defining qualifying and sales execution processes; outlining what needs to happen in each of the stages; preparation steps for sales meetings; types of questions you should be asking, and so on.
At Bates, we call this a Sales Playbook, and it is a powerful tool to ensure rigor, accountability, and agreement around the sales process end to end. It is invaluable in creating a common and consistent language around internal sales progress and expectations. It is also the most effective path to changing your culture of client engagement.
The hard truth is what has worked up until now is not going to get you through the toughest time that most sales leaders and their teams have experienced in their careers so far. Take a step back and assess how you engage with your clients and how they engage with you. What you do to lead your team through this one will determine