In my many years working in sales & marketing, I have been asked by junior salespeople on multiple occasions what the key ingredient to success in sales is. And my response invariably comes down to the personality of the person behind the sale. Yes, the actual person, not the number of prospects you have sourced or the quantity of cold calls you have made.
The old cliché ‘people buy people not products’ still holds true, as I have experienced in my own sales practice on many occasions. Say you are trying to sell your business intelligence product to an investment banking division of a large bank. Their purchasing team has probably met at least five other suppliers and received five different quotes. How do you give yourself the best chance of success when your value proposition is likely to be very similar to your competitors. I would go as far as to say that the only thing that significantly differentiates your offering from that of company A is yourself – your attitude, the way your talk to your contact at the bank, your smile (or absence of it), your general demeanour.
People pick up on the smallest cues that you may not be even aware of. And people like familiarity. Would you say you are more likely to buy a phone upgrade package from somebody you can relate to in one way or another or someone you have nothing in common with? So here comes my first lesson:
1. Find something you may have in common with the person you are trying to sell to and build on this familiarity. Make sure that in the first instance, you try to find out as much as you can about the person’s past, their family, where they went to university, what they like doing in their spare time (obviously, try to keep the balance right and keep your questioning within reason). This should be your special time to establish a bond with the person and the conversation at this point should never touch the product or service you are planning to pitch. Your aim is to relate to the person, understand their background and ‘befriend’ them. I would suggest that at this stage, your primary task is to listen. People love talking about themselves, especially in a job setting, when the opportunities to be heard are generally quite minimal. So lean back and enjoy listening to the stories of their lives (this is a fun side of being a salesperson)!
If you manage to do the above in a natural and sincere way, consider your sales job more than half done! Now that you have built the foundation of familiarity, it is time to gradually upgrade the conversation towards work-related matters.
2. Using the facts you have learnt at the first stage, you can now start asking about the person’s job (adding the ‘human’ aspect to it as well). You could, for instance, enquire what elements of their current job they enjoy the most and which aspects they don’t like as much. This will provide you with an opportunity to comment on their achievements and sympathise with their complaints, which will further build the rapport you have with the person sitting in front of you. Tell them briefly about how long you have been selling and here you can tie in the reasons why you started working for your present employers – a great chance to talk about your product or service. It will effortlessly lead the discussion onto your offering without you actually needing to make a formal pitch. And can you imagine how much more natural and sincere your fascination with your product and service will sound?
I would expect that here your prospect would start asking questions about your offering – feel free to engage in a more detailed discussion about the pros and cons at this stage but avoid mentioning the price until asked. You could point out that the prospect’s competitors take the full advantage of your product or service and provide some information on the ways they have benefited from it.
3. At the final stage, I would advise you ask your prospect about what they think of your offering and whether, in their opinion, they see a real demand for it in their organisation. It is essential you listen carefully to their responses, without interrupting and becoming defensive. If they feel the product or service will not get buy-in from key stakeholders, continue questioning as to why. Once you build a fuller picture of your prospect’s intent on purchasing, the sign off process and the challenges on the path to the final approval, you should try and switch the conversation back to the ‘personal’ discussion. You could say, for instance, that you really enjoyed the discussion since it opened your eyes on the complexity of the prospect’s organisation and its needs and that you found it very interesting to learn about his or her work. You could finish the meeting with the suggestion to meet again and discuss things further – possibly out of the office and at a neutral place, such as a coffee house.
And always remember – your personality, enthusiasm, charm and a friendly approach is what matters in closing a sale and building a trusting relationship with your prospects!
I would be interested to hear your thoughts on how you define a great salesperson so please feel free to post your comments here.