There are a lot of people out there that want to sell you their sales process. They’ll tell you to “follow these X rules” or “follow this formula” to close more deals. Some of these companies have meaningful and useful processes, but when all is said and done, the fact remains that the art of sales extends beyond any simple formula.
Image credit: EJP Photo on Flickr
I mean, think about it: why aren’t there more business schools offering degrees in sales? Because it’s not something you can just learn from a textbook or in a classroom (and I’ve created and taught MBA classes on selling to the C-Suite). When it comes down to it, you need on-the-ground experience to get good at it.
Maybe your sales team has already received top-notch training. That’s great. But there are a number of things that often get overlooked, or completed in a rushed manner, or taken for granted. When you look at your sales team, are they working on these three things that go beyond training, process, or formula?
Even the rookie salesperson knows it’s important to do their research before walking into a meeting, but sometimes it doesn’t get done properly. Maybe the rookie doesn’t do the right research or maybe the veteran gets complacent and chooses to overlook it once or twice. Ask your salespeople to do research on…
The Company: This is where research typically begins (and sometimes ends right there). Who is the company? What do they do? What do they want to do? What is their history? What is their reputation? Getting a holistic picture of your client’s business will help your salesperson instill confidence into the client. “They took the time to get to know my business. They care,” is the message you’re going for here.
The People: Beyond researching the company, does your salesperson know who will be at the meeting? Are they the decision makers or the middle-men? How long have they been with the company? How much do they already know about your particular type of offering? How do they take their coffee? (More on that later…)
The Past, Present, and Future: Does your company already have a history with your client? If so, what is it? Make sure your salesperson knows who they’ve done business with before, with whom they are currently doing business, and how you fit into their future picture.
But before you send them along to do research, make sure they have a concrete sales strategy — otherwise they’ll waste hours digging for information that holds no value. A Hoover’s white paper states:”the purpose of precall sales planning is not to burden a rep with an endless stream of reports, anecdotes, and news stories about a company, but to quickly pinpoint key data that can help make a sale.”
Part of doing in-depth research means your salesperson will have a leg up on building rapport with the client. Does your client like to get right to the point or chat a bit about family first? Do they like to brainstorm in the meetings or do they expect an immediate solution? Do they take sugar in their coffee or like it black? This information is extremely important and it’s not something that can be reduced to a formula, although it is something that can be taught.
“The key to doing this is to draw upon other experiences in your life where building rapport has come naturally,” according to Dr. Earl Taylor, master trainer at Dale University. Taylor says you should visualize your customer as a guest in your home and act accordingly. How you interact with a guest in your home would depend upon the guest, their mood, and the circumstances — and the same is true of your customers. How your salesperson builds rapport with your customer depends on the salesperson, the customer, and their history.
Sometimes it’s necessary to be able to readjust — to modify — to improvise — in the middle of the sales conversation. How good is your sales team with not sticking to “the script?” Can they think on their feet? Can they offer solutions based on the needs they JUST HEARD from the customer? When they’re caught off guard, how do they handle the situation? Social Psychologist Robert Cialdini suggests that salespeople mirror their clients — both in words and in body language.
“If you align your body with theirs and reflect their nonverbal behavior, they’re more apt to buy what you’re selling,” says Cialdini. “We feel most comfortable with people who seem to be like us.” If you know your sales team has a difficult time with these things, it’s best to start with some in-house role-playing than venture out into another sales training solution.
Here’s the thing: sales training is good, and process is very important. But you need to be able to move beyond the sales formula and get into real conversations with real people for real results. The real question here is: how are you going to do it?
What other things do salespeople need to have in order to move beyond the sales formula?