Did you know that selling does not come naturally to roughly one in five of people who have mastered the art?
Would it also surprise you to know that many of the top sales people in the world take a structured and very deliberate approach to the selling process?
Given that selling is so fundamental to the existence and growth of any business, it’s vital that all entrepreneurs and small business owners find a way to sell effectively, even if doing so doesn’t come naturally.
In my experience, business owners are always passionate about what they do, but they don’t always have the underling skill set that enables them to sell naturally and to have conversations that convert leads into customers.
It isn’t easy to become a great seller but it’s important to realise that it is a skill that can be developed and fine-tuned over time.
What is selling?
Fundamentally, selling is about taking your client through a process that leads them to decide whether they want to work with you or not.
Crucially though, getting a ‘no’ is better than not getting an answer at all.
I’m a great believer in giving clients time to think and consider their options. I don’t believe in forcing or tricking someone with underhanded techniques into saying ‘yes’. But I also don’t like to see clients keeping service providers guessing for too long.
Of course, people make buying commitments in different ways depending on the type of purchase, cost and emotional connections involved.
So every buying situation can be different but there are rules and ideas on tactical approaches that can result in significant improvements in the way you sell, which can be particularly valuable if you tend to find the selling process a difficult one to navigate.
The two techniques I have used throughout my career are Integrity Selling and the Sandler technique. Integrity selling was a bespoke sales training programme I learnt in the corporate world and the Sandler technique is an approach I have picked up though conversations with other great sales people and also reading their material – check it out on Amazon.
Below is a list of steps and questions to ask yourself if you’re looking to improve the way you take on the selling process.
Step 1 – Take control of the conversation
In most instances a potential client will be coming to you because they have a problem or a challenge they are facing and they want to see it resolved.
They may be talking to a number of potential providers hoping that they will connect with someone that they feel can solve their problem.
When starting that conversation your client is definitely going to have some aims, outcomes and possible strategies in mind but the important first step is to make sure that you are controlling the conversation.
Being in control of the conversation gives you the ability to lead your client through the selling conversation until you reach the point at which your client makes a decision.
If you are not in control of the conversation then there is only one other person who is.
This means your potential client is controlling the agenda, the flow of the conversation, the questions that are being asked and how the conversation is structured. When this happens you run the risk of having a potential client effectively pick your brains for free advice.
Giving great value, advice and tips in a selling conversation is a must but it’s crucial to make sure that you are the person controlling the flow of information. So make sure that you start the conversation and set the scene. A simple way to do this is to say, for example:
“It’s really good to have this opportunity to talk to you today, I just want to check how much time you have for this meeting”
When you get your answer you can make the appropriate responses and say:
“I’ve got a few questions I would like to ask to help me better understand your situation/needs”
And then you can go into asking your first question. You have taken control in a collaborative and non-aggressive way but it is clear that you are steering the conversation.
Step 2 – 70% vs 30%
In any sales conversation you should be speaking for 30% of the time and your client should be speaking 70% of the time.
This is a really simple point but it always amazes me how few people do this and I have to admit that at times I have to remind myself of it as well.
Entrepreneurs and business owners will often be very keen to talk about their product or service which they are understandably passionate about but the fact is your client won’t care about that until they know how much you care about them.
In any selling conversation it’s preferable to have the client asking you to tell them about your services or products and how they can work with you and you achieve that by smart questioning.
Step 3 – Can you fix their problem?
The last thing you want to do is sell a product or service to someone who doesn’t want or need it.
It will put cash in the bank but in the long run it can damage your reputation because at some point your client is going to realise that they have purchased something that is not right for them. It will not provide them with a good experience and will not delight them in any way.
Selling with integrity is paramount if you want to protect your reputation and brand.
The first order of business is to clarify that your client has got a problem that you can fix and understanding their issues is the only way to do that.
Next you want to make sure that they recognise that the issue you are discussing is a problem and they realise they have it.
Step 4 – Focus on their pain points
As you move the sales conversation forward, you should be aiming to hone in on the pain points that are affecting your clients and causing them the greatest discomfort.
Discussing their pain in this way opens up a dialogue that goes beyond ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers and gets to the heart of what your potential clients really want and care about.
By focussing on the ‘tell me more about it’ type questions, you can help to create a relationship based on trust between yourself and your potential clients.
You might ask, for example:
“So you have a problem attracting clients for your high-end coaching programme? How long has this been a problem?” or
“So you have an issue when it comes to pitching for work over 100K? Can I ask you a few more questions about the details of that problem?”
The first part of the question is repeating what the client has told you while the second part of the question is about digging a little deeper.
Step 5 – Making your painful questions pay off
It’s really important at this stage to understand that you do not want your client to feel under threat in any way. This is not about dragging the pain out of your client or making them feel uncomfortable or tearing them to pieces.
This approach needs to be handled sensitively as you don’t want your client to end up in tears. Making them feel bad will only ensure one thing you won’t get the business.
What you are doing in this phase above all is listening and gathering information.
When appropriate, you can tell your potential client that you understand what they are going through. Draw upon your own life experiences to give examples or vignettes that show your client that you can relate to their issues either through personal experience or client examples.
When you feel the client is ready, probe a bit deeper and get into the specifics. Sandler recommends the following helpful questions:
- “Could you give me an example of that?”
- “Could you be more specific?”
- “How do you feel about that?”
- “How much do you feel that problem is costing you?”
Allow your client to speak and tell their story and just let the conversation flow.
It’s a bit like the waves coming in on a beech – you ask a question and in comes the information, you reflect back and out goes the information, further information comes in that helps you clarify your understanding a bit more, you reflect back again or ask another question and out goes the waves of information again and so the process is repeated.
Once you have gone through this process and reflected back to the client and they have agreed that you have understood them you can then move into the solution phase.
The more you practise having these selling conversations, the more you refine your skill set and the better you’ll become at finding pain points, gaining trust and winning the business you want.
Over time you’ll become more confident in having powerful conversations that sell. If you are new to this approach you won’t get it right straight away so be patient and give yourself time to improve.