By Beth Borrego / Published March 2014
One of the most common questions that a small business owner asks is, “what will it take to increase our sales?” As we have seen thus far, a good marketing campaign with the right mix of targeted advertising should create the demand leading to inbound sales leads. However, a ringing telephone isn’t the same thing as a ringing cash register. Chapter nine will focus on managing your sales leads, and perhaps most importantly, on honing your sales skills by emphasizing consultative sales techniques to increase your closing rate.
Let’s begin by discussing a sales lead tracking system. Regardless of whether you plan to use something as simple as a spreadsheet, or something more automated like a contact management program that is feature rich and allows you to set up automated reminders, it’s very important that all of your leads and quotes are recorded both for immediate follow up and future use.
One of the most commonly used tools by salespeople is the sales “pipeline.” A pipeline is a list of leads, showing the dollar value, the probability of closing, the expected closing date, the last contact date, the next contact date, the contact information, and so on. This information is used for forecasting and may be stored in a contact management program and extrapolated through reports, or it might be listed in a spreadsheet. Some programs allow the data to be exported and used in other programs, eliminating tedious, double-data entry since there may be compelling business reasons to use more than one program. Setting up call and appointment reminders, e-mailing quotes or other information, and making notes about meetings and follow-up conversations are all an important part of prospect management.
Everyone is always looking for the most effective way to sell. There are many schools of thought, numerous books, audio books, DVDs, and tapes on the subject. When it comes to selling, the technique that’s right for you may not be quite as comfortable or natural for someone else. This may mean you’ll need to practice if you’re not comfortable being a “people person.” There are some things to keep in mind when you’re in front of a prospect, which will hopefully result in closing the sale.
Do you remember the movie titled Glengarry Glen Ross? This movie illustrated well how sales people are often stereotyped, and anytime you use a hard close, you run the risk of evoking the image of a used car salesman in the buyer’s mind. This type of technique is not only outdated, but can actually work against the salesperson. Combine that with the stereotype that follows contractors of any sort around, and you quickly have two professional strikes against you. We aren’t going to focus on hard selling closing techniques; instead, we’ll be looking at a more consultative method of selling.
The consultative method is designed to place the sales person in the role of educating the consumer and addressing their needs; in essence, you are not a salesperson, rather you are a consultant. The two most important things to remember about consultative selling are to actively listen and to seek to understand by asking the prospects questions. The consultative sales model embodies the principle of seeking to understand before we seek to be understood. It’s that simple. By asking questions about the consumers’ needs and job expectations, the salesperson will quickly learn important things that he or she might have missed otherwise. The core of this model is based upon active listening. If you don’t listen, you haven’t heard what’s important to the prospects. The key to the sale lies in the answers to the questions you ask your prospects, and your targeted responses outlining precisely how your service or product solves the problem they have just described to you in vivid detail.
Many salespeople simply present their features and benefits, going into great depths about the job their company says it will do. What’s the danger here? Does the presentation touch on what is important to the consumer individually, or does it simply gloss over the high points of the services or products the company routinely offers? If all your salesperson does is give a canned, 20-minute presentation about your company and the services or products you have to offer, you have completely missed the opportunity to properly position your company for that specific opportunity, thereby decreasing the chances of successfully closing the sale.
When you’re busy speaking, you’re not actively listening, and if your prospect is not answering a series of carefully, thought-out questions designed to allow you to gather the information you need to position your company, you won’t have the information you need to create the targeted positioning statements necessary to address the concerns of the prospect. The answers to closing the sale lie in your ability to thoroughly listen, acknowledge the message you have just received, mentally position your services or products based upon the information you have just gathered, and communicate precisely how your company can solve the problems or “pain” the prospect is experiencing.
If you don’t listen carefully to your prospects’ questions and statements, and if you don’t understand why the consumers ask the questions they do or brings up the issues they do, you’ll miss the mark entirely. The answers provided by a consultative sales person to their prospects should always address the needs of the consumers based upon the information the prospects have just provided. Addressing their concerns helps to rid them of fears and makes it more likely that you’ll meet their expectations in a way that feels comfortable for them. Always allow the customers to openly discuss what is important to them, and ask them why what they are conveying to you is important to begin with. Watch your prospects’ body language, listen to their tone of voice, and work as hard as you can to understand their perspective and point of view.
Should you immediately ask for the sale? Not necessarily. Don’t be pushy. Give the decision makers time to discuss the proposal, and allow them the opportunity to come to you. Why? When people feel they are being pressured, most will have a natural tendency to shy away and back off. If someone who is pressured enters into a contract, they may regret it and try to get out of it, although not always. It can sometimes create fear-based problems or tension in the relationship between the client and contractor. How-ever, when you don’t pressure your prospects and remain consultative, very often the prospects remove their own objections and moves toward buying, because they are comfortable with forming the relationship. Sales objections are often based on fear and can be created by the sales person. Imagine that. We are often our own worst enemy!
Consider this; if you feel at ease and comfortable, your guard comes down and you’re more likely to commit to buying the service. However, when prospects’ guards are up, it becomes a wrestling match with the sales person spending valuable time trying to get the prospect to let their guard down. Overcoming sales objections is a waste of time, and really the prospect needs to overcome their own objections. If you ask them if they need time to think it over with their business colleagues or spouses as the case may be, or if they want to go ahead and get started, they’ll appreciate that you took into consideration that they might want time to make a decision without forceful sales pressure. Give prospects room to feel positive and comfortable about the decision they are making and the relationship you are forming with them. This helps prospects feel more at ease about the decision they are making.
Consultative selling is not at all about the “pitch” or the “close” but about the relationship and the customer overcoming their own objections. If you are speaking with the prospects and answering questions without pressure, while giving them all the time and space in the world, you’re using consultative techniques. People have enough stress in their lives as it is. They don’t need the pressure to have to make yet one more decision at the drop of a hat because someone is standing in their doorway.
Of course as a salesperson, you should always follow up with them, but just a few points about doing that too. Make sure you always have a reason to call. Get a commitment on the phone or face-to-face regarding the next step they wish to take, and always follow up when you say that you will. Many folks out there will remember if you show up late or don’t return a phone call, which doesn’t reflect a positive and professional company image.
If you do these things based on what the prospect is comfortable with, the pressure is reduced and your prospect feels far more at ease. For example, let’s say you talk to John Doe at ABC Widget Company about cleaning the exterior of his building. He’s interested but says it’s a few months out. At that point, try asking him several things. First, is it in the budget to clean the exterior this year? And next, when would be the best time to follow up (30, 60, 90 days)? Getting your prospect to tell you when to follow up is important because it amounts to getting a commitment to take that next step. Establishing the method and schedule for the continuation of the dialog is crucial.
When you call your prospect back, remind him that he asked you to call him in 30 days, and then ask if the project is still on track? No? When should I follow up again? Yes? Well, that’s great news; when can we schedule a site visit, and when should I provide you with a proposal? When do you expect to make a decision?
Having your prospect overcome their own sales objections boils down to leading the sales dance. Somewhere along the line, you have to do a little research and ask some questions that many people find uncomfortable to ask or even to answer. You have to discover their “pain.” Why are they looking for a new company? What didn’t they like about their last one? Where did the former company fall short of meeting expectations? What you’re getting from all of this digging is finding out what their hot buttons are, what to do, and what not to do in order to get the business. From there, you should be able to position yourself so that your company appeals to them, and they won’t even realize they told you how to do it.
The consultative sales model allows customers to overcome their own objections. If the prospects ask a question about a particular service that you don’t provide, it doesn’t mean you are out of the running for the contract. The next question from you should be “does this mean we should stop discussing the project?” “Will it be a problem?” Very often, salespeople perceive there is an objection, and there isn’t one. When you ask that question and you are able to do 95 percent of what they want, well, suddenly that last item may not be an issue at all. Maybe they want you to repot the plants in the lobby of the building when you wash the exterior and clean the windows. But, you aren’t a landscaping company. It doesn’t mean it’s a deal breaker. Consultative discussions are an educational process for the both of you, and at the end of all the discussion, you will either agree to give it a shot, or not.
To present your company well, make certain you know your services or products inside and out. Understand your customer’s needs and determine if the person you are dealing with is the decision maker or not. There may be more than one contact that you need to develop a relationship with. Consultative selling is not at all about a one-size-fits-all pre-rehearsed pitch, it’s about discovering the clients’ needs, understanding their particular business and personal reasons for buying, and then using them to position your product or service, so they will buy it.