A lot of companies have a decent website, good product reviews and a competitive price. It is the sales person that often makes the difference in today's marketplace. As products and services become increasingly commoditised, buyers are all too aware they can get a similar product from another company. But what they can't get, is the same sales experience.
Regardless of what industry you are in or who you sell to, we usually see the same key principles in a winning sales approach. These rules can help you sell more to just about anybody.
1. Make it about them.
Buyers don't like listening to salespeople talk at length about their companies or offerings. What you perceive as informative and interesting, prospects perceive as obnoxious and irrelevant.
The cardinal rule of sales is to always make it about your buyer. Every email you write, voicemail you leave, demo you give, and meeting you attend should place the focus squarely on the buyer. Constantly ask yourself, "What's the relevance to this particular prospect?" and customise each interaction accordingly.
2. Do your homework first.
If you expect buyers to give you their time and learn about your product, you need to spend time learning about them first. In the age of social media, there is no excuse to call or email a buyer with no knowledge of what they do and what they care about.
Pre-call research doesn't have to take a long time. Depending on your particular sales cycle, as little as five or 10 minutes per prospect might suffice.
Here are eight places to research prospects before you attempt to engage them in conversation:
- Twitter (prospect's individual account and company's account)
- Company's press releases page
- Competitors' press releases pages
- Company financial statements
- Google (prospect and company)
3. Build rapport first.
If a customer entered a retail store, you wouldn't immediately say, "Hello, would you like to buy this shirt?" You would likely start by asking, "How are you today?" and then, "What brings you in today?"
Similarly, when you are conducting B2B outreach to a prospect you haven't spoken with before, it is important to lean heavily on the research element we touched on in step two.
If you notice your prospect lives in Bristol, do a quick Google search of new restaurants in the area, and open by asking if they have been. Are they from Scotland? Did they watch the rugby?
After all, we are just human beings. Talk to your prospect like a human before speaking to them like a salesperson.
4. Define your buyer.
This might seem like a paradox, but the secret of selling anything to anybody is not attempting to sell just anything to just anybody.
You need to be familiar with the characteristics of your target buyers and thoroughly qualify each prospect against those personas. This is called an ideal buyer profile, and it is like having a secret weapon.
5. Contribute first, sell second.
If you are defining your target buyer correctly, you will spend the majority of your day talking to business leaders who have problems your product or service can solve. But just because you know this doesn't mean they do.
Don't jump in with your pitch right off the bat. You run the risk of angering the prospect or scaring them away. Instead, offer your help in the way you think would be most valuable. Not sure where you can be of service? Ask.
Maybe you can send a prospect a piece of content that speaks their needs. Perhaps you can draw on your expertise to speak about industry-wide trends the buyer might not be privy to.
Position yourself as an advisor who wants to help, rather than a salesperson thirsty to sell. With this approach, you'll find a more receptive audience when you finally get around to connecting their problem with your offering. In short: be helpful first.
6. Ask questions, and listen.
No matter how thoroughly you have researched your prospect, there will be gaps in your knowledge, and you won't be able to help the buyer solve their issue if you don't fully understand it. For this reason, it's critical to ask thoughtful questions during your conversations -- and a lot of them.
Here are some examples:
- "How did this happen?"
- "What are the most important features for you?"
- "Has it always been this way?"
- "How is the issue impacting your organisation/customers staff?"
- "What are you currently doing to address the problem?"
- "In a perfect world, what would you like to see happen with this?"
- "Can you give me an example?"
It is good to have a list of questions prepared as a jumping off point, but you don't have to stick to them if the conversation takes an unexpected turn. People like talking about themselves and their situations, so your genuine interest and curiosity will help them warm up to you.
After posing a question, fall silent and simply listen. Really hear what the buyer is saying, and don't just wait for your turn to speak. Then after they've finished their thought, communicate their message back to them, ask them to verify if you understood them correctly.
7. Remember the way the brain works.
Our brains are wired to respond to certain situations in specific ways. Being aware of these psychological tricks can help you harness them to your benefit.
Here are just a few of the quirks relevant to salespeople:
- Anchoring effect: The information we receive first acts as an anchor against which we evaluate all further data.
- Decoy effect: A third option can sometimes help people choose between two possibilities.
- Rhyme-as-reason effect: Rhyming statements seem truer than non-rhyming ones.
- Loss aversion: We react more strongly to the possibility of losing something we currently have than the possibility of gaining something we don't.
- Peak-end rule: People remember the end and a high point within a presentation more vividly than any other section.
- Curse of knowledge: When someone who knows a lot about a given subject is unable to relate to someone who is not as familiar.
- Confirmation bias: We are more likely to accept information that aligns with our beliefs than contradictory evidence -- no matter how compelling.
8. Personality matters. Theirs.
Pay attention to your prospect's personality and tailor your sales approach accordingly. Our personal attributes have an impact on how we like to be sold to and what information we prioritise.
Here is a list of the four main personality types, and their preferences:
- Assertive: Interested in results and the bottom line.
- Amiable: Interested in creative ideas and big-picture visions.
- Expressive: Interested in people and how ideas affect others.
- Analytics: Interested in facts, figures, and data.
Once you know which category your prospect fits into, play to their preferences and customise your messaging and presentation to nail what's most important to them.
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