Hack Number 3 – Managing The Sales Conversation
by David Powell, Regional Director – Yorkshire & North East England
Hello again and welcome to Sales Hack No. 3.
In this blog and the more detailed video, we will be looking in depth at how to manage the Sales Conversation, and why doing so has such a great impact on your sales success. It may be useful for you to review the two earlier Sales Hacks (5 Reasons Why You Didn’t Close That Sale and Value Propositions) as they do lead neatly into managing the Sales Conversation.
But first, some poetry for you. This is by Rudyard Kipling, and I am sharing only the first 4 lines – you can google the rest if you like. The poem is called “I Keep Six Honest Serving Men”:
I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How Where and Who.
You see, to effectively control and direct the Sales Conversation you need great, powerful questions. My learned colleague Glen Williamson goes into this in far more detail in the attached video. In fact, much to Kipling’s annoyance, Glen keeps seven honest serving men – he has “which?” in addition to the other six.
Powerful questions are almost always “open” questions that invite a thoughtful, considered, narrative response. They can often provoke a reassessment of beliefs or accepted understanding. Closed questions (generally requiring only a “yes” or “no”) are also potentially powerful but tend to be very specific in scope. My favorite closed question was asked of Jack Nicholson by Tom Cruise in the film “A Few Good Men”. “Colonel Jessop! Did you order the Code Red!?”. It sort of ends the conversation rather abruptly; check it out on YouTube. Use closed questions with caution, even if you are a great lawyer.
In the video, Glen templates an effective process for directing the Sales Conversation to deliver the best result. Remember that the best outcome may be that you don’t want the sale, or even that the sale may not be possible or doesn’t exist. Managing the Sales Conversation effectively will get you to the truth of the matter.
Before I quickly run through the key points in the Sales Conversation, there is one thing you absolutely must do before your meeting. You must propose an agenda with the topics you want to cover, and most critically, in the order you want those topics covered. Invite your contact to propose other agenda points and, if they respond, make sure you accommodate them in the running order that works for you. This means you can actually begin to direct the conversation before it starts.
In the video, Glen starts with a focus on two key areas: establishing context and building/maintaining rapport. This is the chance to demonstrate how much you value the buyer and their business. You have taken some pains to research them and the questions you ask are powerful.
I find this TV advert useful to understand the value of context. It’s very old, grainy, and in black and white but please bear with me. The advert is for The Guardian newspaper, and it seeks to establish the brand as a champion of the whole truth:
I think it’s very clever. You switch from wanting to call the police to wanting to treat the lad to a decent haircut in less than 30 seconds. There is no understanding until you have the full context.
I am clear on this. The best jobs I’ve had were won by the quality of the questions I asked. Sure, my CV got me to the interview, but it was my ability to demonstrate an understanding of the business, the challenges faced, the role, its context within the organization, and what success would look like that landed me the job. Ask great questions and take care to summarise your understanding. As you go through this process, you can build trust and authority as you build rapport and establish context.
The core of Glen’s process centers around five areas of discovery which lead to engagement and sale. Build and maintain rapport – your questions show real interest in them and their business. Be curious, if done correctly you are paying a compliment. Follow on with qualifying questions and be brave here too. You may discover disappointment that the opportunity is not what it seems, but better to know now than when you’ve invested more time and effort or committed your business to expenditure. And if the opportunity is good, you will be able to fully assess and scope its attractiveness.
Diagnostic questions can really turn the conversation. This is where you clarify the problems the buyer has but doesn’t want or the results they want but don’t have. Next, move on to establishing the value that the customer wants and needs. That’s not your product or your price, it is something that makes your customer’s boat go faster. The value you are seeking to capture is the buyer’s definition of value, not yours. Your mission is to discover this.
You will need to watch the video to see how the 5 Value questions really start to quantify the benefits your customer can achieve, and this really does accelerate the negotiation. The final question set requires the buyer to reflect on the real benefits of your solution by getting them to envision how their business could be transformed with your product or service.
Before I wrap this blog up, I just want to add a quick word of caution. The “why” question. It really is powerful if used well. However, context is everything, as I think I’ve mentioned. If you ask, “Why did you do that?”, it can occasionally sound like a personal challenge or even a rebuke. Sometimes it can sound like “Why did you do that, you idiot?” Just be careful; like all powerful tools, it can cause injury in the wrong hands.
And finally. I do feel a bit sorry that Kipling only had six honest serving men while Glen has seven. So, forgive me, Rudyard:
I keep seven honest serving men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are Which, What, Why, and When
And How Where and Who.
I hope this has provoked some thoughts and ideas that you can incorporate into your selling process. If it has, I would be delighted to hear from you. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org and my mobile is 07813131923. Again, I urge you to watch the recording of Glen’s excellent webinar on these issues below.
In the meantime, stay safe and happy hunting.