Gracefully Turn Conversations into Solution Pitches

By Geoffrey James

Most software sales reps use some variation of the consultative sales methodology – initiating a conversation that encourages the customer to slowly reveal problems the sales rep then can solve with his or her software solution. One of the greatest challenges to this type of sales methodology is the segue from talking about customer problems to talking about software solutions. This is especially true when moving from a conversation mode of communication to a presentation mode. If this is done awkwardly, the transition can seem abrupt and insensitive. In the worst case it can sound like you’re glad the customer is done taking about his or her problems so you can give your standard sales pitch.

A more effective strategy is to let the solution emerge naturally from the conversation. This can be difficult, however, if the customer doesn’t ask the right questions or if the conversation goes off in an unexpected direction. In these cases, you need to be able to redirect the conversation so it naturally leads toward the software solution. Doing this requires both preparation and patience. Here’s a four-step process that can help you make the transition gracefully.

Step 1: Craft your key messages. Before meeting with your customer review your presentation and marketing materials. Identify your software solution’s key advantages as they apply to the customer’s environment. As an aid to your memory, jot them down at the top of the page on which you’ll take notes about the meeting.

Step 2: Support your key advantages. For each of your key advantages, list some supporting evidence that drives your point home. There are four general types of supporting evidence:

  1. Examples. In most cases these will be other customers who are similar to the current customer and who have had a positive experience using your software.
  2. Statistics. These should be used sparingly. They are most effective when expressed in a way that is easily understandable. For example, saying nearly one out of three paints a more memorable image than saying 32 percent.
  3. Analogy or comparison. Making an analogy or comparison between two things makes your statements more memorable. For example: The intranet is the spreadsheet of multiuser computing.
  4. Personal experience. Using personal experience to illustrate your point enables your customer to relate to and comprehend a key advantage. For example: My former employer had a similar problem…

Step 3: Build a bridge. During the conversation use the bridging technique to introduce your key advantages. In most cases your opportunity to bridge will take place when the customer asks you a question. Bridging involves dealing with the customer’s question briefly and honestly, and then promptly following that response with a key advantage. For example:

Yes… (the answer), and in addition…. (the bridge)
No… (the answer), let me explain…. (the bridge)
I don’t know… (the answer), but what I do know is…. (the bridge)
That’s the way it used to be… (the answer), here’s what we do now…. (the bridge)

Step 4: Emphasize key points. When you’re communicating your key advantages use flagging language to make them stick in the customer’s mind. Flagging gives your customer an easier way to prioritize what you’ve been communicating. Here are some examples:

The most important thing to remember is….
It boils down to these three things….
Let me make one thing perfectly clear….