Make the Most of Your Sales Call:
Over the last decade, the world of business-to-business selling has changed beyond recognition. Face-to-face, transactional selling is dead; where customers want to do transactional business, it is far more effective for both buyer and seller to use the Internet or telephone. Increasingly, customers resent having to spend time in sales calls purely to make standard transactions, and some customers are even beginning to measure the cost of spending their time in this way. From the supplier side, sending a sales person or a team of people is simply too expensive unless they can add real value.
So, when clients and salespeople are going to invest time in a face-to-face sales call, what techniques can sales people use to ensure that they do add value? Research based on observation of what makes sales people successful reveals that there are four techniques that drive effectiveness:
1. Sell value, not products. Successful sales people focus on the value that their products and services add to the customer, not on product or service features. Of course they have a thorough knowledge of their company and its offerings, but they apply that knowledge to the customer’s specific issues and problems. Weaker sales people tend to do more ‘product push’; better sales people focus on value. Weaker sales people rely heavily on brochures and marketing materials that the customer could just as easily (and more quickly) have read online; stronger sales people use their knowledge of the customer to frame value propositions. Selling value is easier to say than to do. It is a method that can be taught through techniques such as role play, but it also requires intensive training to ‘unlearn’ bad habits and is therefore unsuitable for on-the-job coaching.
2. Only use relevant anecdotes and examples. Our observation of highly successful sales people is that they make moderate use of relevant examples drawn from other customers. In fact, there is an inverted ‘U’ shape to success. Moderate use of examples is interesting and engaging for customers, and is linked to sales success. Low use is linked to poorer sales meeting outcomes, presumably because customers like to hear some real-world applications of the product or service they are thinking of buying. But at the other extreme, very high usage of stories and examples is also linked to weaker sales performance, perhaps because the sales person ‘talks through the sale’ or — the ultimate sales sin — bores the customer. Unlearning this behavior will require either some training for the sales person in alternative techniques and/ or intensive coaching from the sales manager.
3. Plan the sales call. Too many sales people are happy to go into a sales meeting and just ‘wing it’, or think that the proper preparation for a sales meeting consists of a 20-minute team briefing in the customer’s car park before the meeting. In fact, research clearly shows that more successful sales people plan ahead, develop a clear meeting agenda, and have defined objectives and strategies for the meeting — especially for any negotiation that may take place. Top sales teams rehearse their sales meetings and role-play various scenarios. One sign of poor preparation is that the sales person’s track record may be erratic. Sometimes they will pull off a terrific sale; other times, they will miss a sure-fire certainty. Where sales managers see these symptoms, they should ask to see the meeting agenda well beforehand and insist that important sales meetings are rehearsed repeatedly.
4. Respond flexibly and manage objections. Talented sales people are good at overcoming customer objectives and indeed are trained to do so. But sometimes the objections are of their own making — perhaps because a little too much of the ‘hard sell’ creeps into their sales meetings. The really great sales people in fact don’t generate quite so many objections, perhaps because of greater tact and flexibility in dealing with customers. The message is that sales people always need to reflect on their practice in meetings, to make sure that they are dealing effectively with their customers. Sales managers need to check up on their good sales people from time to time, observing them in the sales meeting and, if necessary, coaching them afterwards.
These four techniques are for the sales people who are already at least moderately successful in a relational sales world, and are aimed at helping them improve their sales practice. Sales people who are much less comfortable in this new world need more extensive training. For sales managers, the important thing is to recognize that sometimes training is required, whereas sometimes coaching can be more effective. Depending on what the issue is, the coaching might be required before the meeting (if the desired change is to improve sales meeting planning) or after the meeting (if the desired aim is to improve flexibility and objection handling). So the timing of coaching, as well as its content, needs to be taken into consideration.
The good news is that all four techniques can be learned, through the right kind of sales training and coaching.