The sales conversation is changing—have you kept up?
Tell me about your business
Let me tell you about my product
Just checking in
How’s it going?
Not much; what’s new with you?
These are antiquated conversation openers that go back to the days when customers brought in salespeople to learn about services, products and solutions. Today, these kinds of conversations are ones that neither you nor your buyer need. You can and should learn about their business before the conversation begins. They can do the same for your products and services. If you’re just checking in, you can text.
Buyers still want to talk to you, but not about that stuff. Today’s conversations start where the old ones left off. You need to come to the table already an expert — with knowledge of the customer’s company, its competitive environment, and the stakeholders involved in the buying decision.
Where to next?
And then you need to take the conversation somewhere that leaves the customer thinking, “Wow. I got a lot more out of that conversation than I expected.”
You want conversations that buyers will remember. That will set you apart from other salespeople. That will unlock new opportunities or get your buyer thinking differently.
Here are four fresh kinds of conversations you can have with prospects and customers:
Customers are looking to you for insight that goes beyond what they already know, to help them solve not only their current problem, but emerging business challenges. Futuring conversations help you (and sometimes buyers themselves) understand where things are headed. The goal isn’t prediction. It’s to learn the buyers’ vision of the future as they understand it today, and to explore what they need to do right now to prepare for it.
- Where do you expect this organization to be in five years?
- What are you doing to prepare for ______ (insert an emerging industry trend)?
- What will be the biggest threat to your business in the next year?
The goal of this conversation is to identify top-priority business issues. This isn’t a conversation limited to your products and solutions; it takes a step back to look at what issues are attracting attention and resources in the organization.
Some questions to ask:
- What topics are getting the most discussion in management meetings these days?
- Where are you spending the most money?
- What’s driving revenue and growth?
- What problems keep coming up despite your best efforts to solve them?
These conversations are designed to help you better understand buying cycles, so you can get plugged in sooner. Back in the old days, buyers got salespeople involved early in the buying cycle, because that was the only way they could get the information they needed. Now buyers can do their research anonymously on the Internet, and they tend to invite salespeople in only at the end. The buying cycle is still there, but much of it is invisible to salespeople – unless you ask.
- What projects are you working on that are still in the early phases?
- What issues are you just now starting to look into?
- What’s in your development pipeline?
- What do you see on the horizon that you feel you need to know more about?
These conversations create emotional links between the customer and you, what you sell, and the company you work for. It’s important to make the business case, but equally important to connect person to person.
You might say:
- How do you feel about what I’ve proposed?
- What will it mean to you personally if we can find a solution to this problem?
- I was really excited when I saw the results of our field trials.
- It’s fun to work with your organization, because you challenge me to do my best.
These are different conversations from the ones you may be used to having. They require a greater depth of knowledge and insight. And they may take you in unexpected directions. They may uncover opportunities that more predictable conversations never will. Even more important, they differentiate you from all those other salespeople who play it safe, and get your buyer thinking of you in a new and better light.
Adapted in part from “Changing the Sales Conversation,” by Linda Richardson. To learn more, visit www.lindarichardson.com
About the Author:
Michael Boyette is the Executive Editor of Rapid Learning Institute and thought leader for the Top Sales Dog blog. He is a nationally recognized authority on selling and has written hundreds of articles and training programs for sales reps and sales managers. Michael has managed programs for US Healthcare, Bell Communications Research, and DuPont. Connect with Michael via Twitter @TopSalesDog.
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