Today’s marketplace has greatly changed the way salespeople sell and how consumers see new products and services. According to a 2017 HubSpot poll, only 29 percent of consumers want to talk to a salesperson to learn more about a product, while 62 percent prefer to consult a search engine. In addition, salespeople are no longer generally considered “trusted advisors.” While there are a few who are perceived as experts who dramatically outperform their peers, a growing number are seen as nothing more than an unavoidable part of the sales process and are becoming more and more commoditized.
This change in the marketplace begs the question: How does one sell? More importantly, how does a salesperson increase profits in this new environment? To answer this question, we have developed a systematic approach that can help salespeople maximize their revenue generation while developing deep relationships with their clients. This process is made up of three phases: preparation, probing, and proposing. By using this approach in conjunction with their sales process, we are confident sales organizations will see an immediate and sustained impact.
While preparing for sales seems obvious, you’d be surprised how often salespeople underestimate its importance. Often salespeople get comfortable with their experience or aren’t sure how to prepare, so they decide, “I don’t need to prepare; I can wing it.” However, this habit ultimately hurts their sales potential. There is no doubt that preparation is seen as cumbersome; however, not only is there generally a worthwhile return on the time invested, but also there are ways to do it better and faster.
The trick to preparation is using a checklist of some sort to guide you and ensure you do it right every time.
First, research and look at precedents. When a salesperson looks at what has or hasn’t worked in the past, he or she is able to build a better strategy, be more persuasive, and eventually learn to expect the unexpected.
Next, look at the alternatives to the sale. This is a great approach to see if there are other offerings you can propose. For example, if you can’t lower the price of a product or service, can you add other benefits? Making an extra effort to meet the consumer’s needs is time well spent. Often salespeople focus on closing rather than spending the extra time on building relationships with clients – and the other side can sense it.
Finally, consider the buyer’s interests in the sale. Understanding what the consumer wants is the key to solving their problem. After taking this step, salespeople often realize they haven’t asked enough questions and have made too many assumptions.
In the current sales environment, there is no greater asset than being a good listener. According to HubSpot, 60 percent of consumers want to connect with a salesperson during the consideration stage of a sale, after they’ve researched different options and have come up with a short list. This is the perfect time to ask them good open-ended questions about what is important to them and flush out all the information they wish to share before addressing each point. A very common mistake salespeople make is asking a great question about the other side’s interests and then attacking the answer before the other side is done explaining. We recommend doing the opposite: Give them a chance to share everything first before offering a solution. Take notes if you need to, but don’t interrupt!
After preparing, asking questions, and listening intently, there comes a time when a solution needs to be proposed.
There is an age-old debate in negotiations: When is it best to make the first offer? The answer: It depends. If the market is very well known, perhaps even public, and both sides are experts, it can be advantageous to make the first offer as it can “anchor” the negotiation.
In most other scenarios, however, we would suggest letting the other side go first. In the best-case scenario, you will be pleasantly surprised. In the worst case, their offer provides you with more information and you can always counter, ignoring their attempt to anchor you.
So, once you’ve figured out whether you should go first or not, what else do you need to keep in mind? First, aim high, but with reason. How high? As high as you can justify with precedents. Second, don’t accept the other side’s first offer immediately. Make them work for it. In one of our sales negotiation programs we run a simulation where some participants feel better about a sale at $900,000 than those that got $1,000,000. How is that possible? At $1,000,000, the other side accepted immediately – and the person immediately realized they had left money on the table. At $900,000 the other side countered, and the back and forth gave the salesperson a sense of satisfaction.
Now more than ever, salespeople need to prove their value both within their organization and externally with potential clients. We believe there is no better way to do that than by being well prepared, asking open-ended questions, listening intently, and being strategic about proposals made. The next time you are trying to make a sale or coaching a member of your team, give this process a try. We’re confident you will find it worth your while!
Jeff Cochran is a Partner at Shapiro Negotiations.