Sales success starts with providing value. And providing value to prospective customers starts with stellar communication. You need to get to know your prospect intimately so that you can highlight the right points during the sales process. Here’s how I do this.
The value of in-depth conversations
To provide value, you need to engage with your prospect on a deeper level than you probably expect at first glance. You want to figure out what the prospect’s real goals are, which goes beyond what you learn from high-level conversations. Yes, these are business goal-related, but a majority of the time, they are influenced by many external factors. What’s happening in the industry or the market, what are their competitors doing, what other departments are thinking about, what’s happening in their personal life that is making them think more deeply about their business, department, or role, etc.
When it comes to value, delivering value isn’t just what you say. It’s everything from eye contact to your presence in the room to the particular words you articulate that make people lean in and listen a little more to what you’re saying. Real value goes beyond pain points and solving business problems. You want to get to the place where you have a drink with the CEO and he says, “Actually, I’m trying to sell my business.” or “I’m trying to buy a new house.” – as examples. Once you know that, now you know where you can take the conversation.
As you learn in sales, in each conversation, you’re speaking with people, who all have different personalities and ways they think about business decisions. Some people speak in numbers, and you’ll have to speak in numbers, too. Some people buy based on your ability to paint a vision of the future state of the business. What you’re selling also makes a difference. If you’re an unknown brand or new category of product, you’ll often have to do more value selling and strong customer story examples.
When you think about every conversation you’re having with a customer or prospect, it’s important that you are aligned. Being explicit is always the right tactic. Ask them, “What are you hoping to get out of this conversation? What are you going to be really happy that we talked about?” Then build the conversation around getting them to that end goal and then confirm that they’ve gotten what they wanted out of the conversation. Of course, never forget to get exactly what you need from the conversation. They need to feel heard and understood, but never instead of getting what you need. Never give without getting something in return, this is key in a successful conversation, and particularly in negotiation. That said, particularly early in the conversation, If they’re not leading the conversation or at least feel they are leading the conversation, they’re not really in it with you and will struggle to buy into what you are asking of them.
It helps to be transparent when you’re asking questions. Let them know why behind the questions you are asking. They want to know, “Why are you asking this random question that’s just going to help you?” or “What am I gaining from answering this?”
All in all, whenever possible, step back and be human. Say, “I get it. That question may have come out of the blue. Here’s why I’m asking.” That takes people off defense mode and brings some humanity back into the conversation.
Finding internal champions
Internal champions are important in deals, particularly in more complex enterprise deals. Find them and use them to connect with other stakeholders within an organization. If you are selling a point solution to a single buyer, this may not be necessary, but as you go upmarket and are selling more than one solution, you need to have multiple people on both sides of the house engaging. This helps you better understand the overall business objectives across departments and will always help you deliver a more pointed message to those in the room.
At the end of the day you are trying to create a true champion at the business you are selling to but to do this you have to ask the right questions. It’s not rocket science, it may be as simple as asking, “What is it going to take to get you to be a true champion of this project to make this happen?” They will tell you. Or you can try to use more of a Sandler pendulum approach and say, “I have a feeling you don’t want this. What do you really want?” The negative framing can help you figure out what’s really happening. Also, every manager is going to ask you about the red flags or risks in a deal so asking a champion why the deal won’t happen, is not a bad idea.
Once you have the internal champion on board, it’s ok to ask them for information before going to the other stakeholders. What do the decision-makers really care about? Why have they invested in software in general in the past? What’s the biggest thing they are looking to accomplish right now? Champions want to be as prepared as possible, so help them! It’s their job and reputation that’s on the line if the investment is not successful.
Harnessing the power of storytelling
Storytelling is one of the most effective tools you have for providing value. This starts with your own story, why should they be listening to you? What are you as an Account Executive or Manager brings to the conversation. They don’t care that you are the Account Executive responsible for their account, but rather they care about your expertise and the value you are going to bring to their business and the relationship you are going to have with them. Communicate that you are a consultant, not just a salesperson that’s trying to get their money. It needs to be clearly delivered that you want what’s best for them and will work with your internal team to fight for them. When I first start talking to prospects, I let them know that I’ve been in the SaaS world for ten years, have worn every hat, I’ve worked with back end accounting and finance software, to running sales teams of all sizes, to not only using Salesforce as an admin, but as a general user, and now am helping them figure out how Salesforce is more generally a front-office software that could help their business in a variety of ways. It’s always my goal to find commonality and get to a place where we’re just talking about business rather than my team trying to sell to them explicitly.
One great tactic as you begin a sales process is to continue to use storytelling. They need to be able to tell you about their current processes and talk through different scenarios that you could be solving for. Once you get to the demonstration stage, it’s helpful to paint a vision before diving into a demo. It’s common for salespeople to be very reliant on factual slide decks. Slides are fine, but they should always be complimenting your story and providing value and ROI. I like slides with minimal text, but a few keywords. That text can serve as a sign for further discussion. Ask, “How does this resonate with you? What would this mean for your organization?” Again, don’t be afraid to let them steer the conversation to an extent while keeping control.
Paint a picture of what your prospect’s life (or their customers’ lives) will be like when they have your solution in place. If a champion can’t envision the future state, how would they be able to “sell” anyone else on the solution?
Engaging C-level executives
Presenting to C-level executives has a particular set of challenges that are important to get right. It costs any organization a lot of money to get all the executive in one place so it’s vital to be concise in your messaging, always prioritize the why behind what you are selling, and keep the conversation ROI-centric. Everyone in the room on the seller’s side needs to have a clear understanding of their role in the conversation.
Executives have many things going on at any given time so it’s common for them to walk out of the room so this further validates the fact that you have to speak to directly to value, ROI, and how it’s going to make their companies work more efficiently.
This is what most executives are looking for, but there’s another aspect of a strong sales cycle that I’ve seen to be greatly successful in gaining buy-in from executives. This is storytelling and vision selling. Storytelling is still one of your best tools. Customers that are deep, personal, and relevant have the most impact, so the more you can bring the conversation back to the stories, the better. If you don’t have the resources to create a true “vision presentation”, start with speaking in customer voice and learn relevant customer stories.
All in all, if you can master communication skills, use storytelling effectively, and tailor your approach to the person you’re speaking with, you can provide value to your prospects.