One of my favorite activities while I am working with my clients is when I get to go out on sales calls with my client's sales people. When I am in the field I am not assessing the sales people, I am actually assessing the sales process and looking for systemic habits that are slowing down the prospect's progression through their buying process and ultimately slowing down my client's sales cycle.
There are three behaviors that I regularly see sales people doing that negatively impact the outcome of a first meeting with a client. If remained unchecked, these habits will extend the sales cycle, decrease the average revenue per sale, and lower the overall closing percentage of the team.
1. Lots of talking, little listening.
The initial sale meeting sets the tone for the remainder of the sales cycle. It is the sales person's chance to learn key information regarding the prospect's needs as well as qualifying the prospect. When sales people spend the majority of the meeting talking about the product and company, they miss the opportunity to learn from the prospect what the actual pain point is along with the consequences of not fixing the issue. They also lose an early opportunity to understand the prospects buying process and if the individual sitting across the table actually has the ability to make purchase decisions. It is key for the sales person to ask open ended questions that allow the prospect to share information rather than say "yes" or "no".
Not only do sales people need to ask questions in the proper form but they also need to ask the right questions. During the discovery process there are four key items you need to understand about the prospect to ensure you are allocating time and energy on a qualified prospect.
1. Need to purchase - How bad does the prospect need to make the purchase?
2. Authority to Purchase - How much purchasing power does the prospect have?
3. Ability to Purchase - How accessible is the money?
4. Interest to Purchase - What other options is the prospect considering? And how far along is the prospect in the decision making process with the competition?
Due to the increase in availability of information on the internet from the content marketing efforts of you and your competition, buyers are now anywhere from 50% to 75% of the way toward making a buying decision BEFORE they make first contact with a sales person. If you don't properly qualify your clients you risk wasting resources on prospects that won't end up buying, or you will extend the sales process because you did not engage the actual decision maker early in the process before they had already formed an opinion about your product.
2. Selling features not benefits.
If you haven't conducted a proper discovery session, you won't have a clear understanding of your client's goals, plans to achieve those goals, challenges they are facing, their timeline, or what happens if they do or do not hit their goals. When sales people don't have this understanding it is easy to start selling based on the features of the product they are representing. People don't buy because the features, they buy because of the "afters". The time you save them. Or the costs. Or the headache you get rid of. They buy because of what their reality will be after your product does what it does.
But you can't just share your vision of the end result for your client because your competition could be saying the exact same thing. You need to provide proof in the form of real life examples and illustrate how your approach and your experiences differ from your competition and help provide the wanted results.
3. Establishing forward progress.
Many times I see sales people spend an hour running a fantastic sales call where they have identified the key pain points for the prospect, illustrated how their company can deliver the results and sparked genuine interest in the prospect, but don't establish the next steps in the process with the prospect. When that happens, you are back to playing email and phone tag trying to re-engage your prospect. That great prospect you planned on closing this month? It is now stalled in the pipeline.
At the conclusion of the meeting it is key to establish who is doing what and when. Both the prospect and the sales person need to have something to produce for the next step. This is really your first closing attempt with your client as you are getting them to agree to move forward in the discussion and setting the date when that will occur. Offer your client clear options to choose from. Whether it is setting a date and time for the next meeting or scheduling a product demo, offering these options allows your prospect to choose how they want to continue the conversation. This choice also ensures you have buy in from the prospect for the next step. If you arbitrarily decide what you do next, there is a good chance you may choose wrong and derail your sales process. If you take the time to end you call properly, you can ensure that your prospects continue to move through your pipeline. After the meeting be sure to send a follow up email outlining the next steps that each of you agreed to and the due dates for any tasks. This ensures you are both on the same page and that one of you didn't hear something differently.
Helping your sales people manage their pipeline and how prospects move through it is a key responsibility of the sales manager. If you are not providing your team a consistent framework to follow, you are slowing the progression of your junior sales people. You also risk having multiple sales processes being followed on your team. Providing a call model not only helps your junior sales people learn the process and ramp up faster, but it also gives your experienced sales people a tool that helps them get a sales call back on track if it goes sideways. Using a standard model will also help you identify recurring issues that if resolved, improve the effectiveness of your sales team.