Weeks of relationship and rapport building, finding out about the client's organisation and the challenges they face and laying the foundation to work with them can be undone with a poorly executed sales call. Depending on the length of your sales funnel, the weeks may well be a few months of effort and work that disintegrate in a phone call.
Whether we are in B2B or B2C businesses, selling a product or a service, at some stage, there will be a sales call or a series of calls depending on the structure of our sales process. If we are a consultant or service-based company, we may have a qualifying call to ensure we have ideal customers before the sales call. Where we are selling a product, there is not the same need to qualify potential customers or clients.
However, we structure these calls; care must be taken if we are to be successful.
Being effective in sales is achieved by following a structure. The best salespeople follow a highly tuned system or process they have adapted and honed over multiple sales. These salespeople do not rely on 'luck' or 'charm' or the fact; they have 'done this countless times before'. Instead, they spend time and energy thinking through how to develop successful processes to achieve results.
The structure they follow is like a skeleton; it provides a form to the sales process. These salespeople are not thrown off course when something unexpected happens because they can address the issue and then get back on course following the structure or skeleton they have in mind.
Just as a healthy skeleton supports the body and enables it to function and move without thinking, a good sales skeleton allows the salesperson to concentrate on the individual they are selling to, rather than always thinking about the process.
But what happens when the salesperson relies too much on the process or the skeleton shows?
Recently I had a sales call from a large company based in the USA that was selling services. It was evident in the first two minutes that the salesperson was following a sales script. Throughout the call, which went for about fifty minutes, I gave the salesperson a clear indication on at least three occasions, I would not buy. Each time the salesperson acknowledged my comment, parked it and went on with their script.
After fifty minutes, we got to the part of the call where they wanted me to buy. When I refused to proceed, the salesperson had nothing to fall back on except to make out I was defective because I would not proceed.
This call highlights several potential problems that arise when the skeleton of the sales process shows up to the customer.
Most sales processes begin with establishing rapport. Salespeople understand the benefits of engaging with potential clients.
The problem with establishing rapport in most sales processes is that the salesperson only establishes the rapport to achieve an outcome. Rather than being interested in the person, most sales processes use rapport as a door to obtain a sale.
As customers, we know when we are being "sold to". This sense of being sold to destroys the credibility of any rapport that was initially established. As customers, we see the rapport-building exercise for what it is, a prefabrication to elicit a sale. For many customers, this destroys their trust in the salesperson.
If, as salespeople, we are going to build rapport, then it needs to be genuine and come from a place where we are interested in finding out the challenges faced by the customer and how we can assist them in solving their issues.
The salesperson I spoke to relied on the process they had been told to follow rather than relate to me as a potential client.
It was apparent that in receiving their training, the salesperson had been told to:
The salesperson relied on this process; however, when it didn't work, they were not sure what to do except to make out I was defective for not taking up such a brilliant offer.
We need to have a process, a skeleton. However, we need to build up the muscles and ligaments around the skeleton to have the flexibility and flow in the sales process. When we understand our process so innately, we can "park the process" rather than the client and relate to them as individuals.
The process is a prop to help us engage with a person. We will lose sales when the person becomes a prop to our process.
If our selling model is more solving than sales, then listening is paramount.
What do I mean by this?
To solve our client's concerns or problems, we must listen more than we speak. Our clients need to know they have been heard. It is easy to fall into the thinking that we know what is best for our clients. In some ways, we may know what is best because we have dealt with the solution over numerous years and in multiple ways. However, it is still essential that we listen to what our client is saying. Not to 'park' their concerns, but to acknowledge their validity and address them.
One of the important things that companies overlook when selling into different countries is the importance of culture.
As indicated, the sales call I had was for a product from a company based in the USA. The terminology used in the phone call differed from the terminology we would use in Australia. The salesperson's words, which may have triggered resonance in the States, left me with a sense of being jarred because I had to constantly be re-interpreting what the person was saying into the Australian context.
One of the impacts of COVID for businesses is the ongoing use of Zoom and other IT platforms for consultation and sales calls; this means for companies that do have an international focus, cultural training and awareness for their sales team is essential. The cultural awareness I am writing of here is the subtle differences in how language is used and the meanings given to words that may differ from how they are used, for example, in Australia.
In sales, having a skeleton or steps to follow is essential. However, the skeleton should be hidden behind a process that has the flexibility and musculature to relate effectively and healthily to clients. Clients will feel they are being sold to if your skeleton is showing. Know your process but do not rely on it; concentrate instead on the person, and listen to their challenges so you can suggest an effective solution. Most importantly, when communicating or selling internationally, learn to communicate cross-culturally.