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The art of selling: How to have the sales conversation (part 2)

Did you know that just 2% of business owners close a sale the very first time they meet a potential client?

The other 98% discover that clients make a purchase only after some degree of know, like and trust has been established.

Savvy business owners recognise they need to learn more about their future clients, and be open to helping them solve some of their issues, before working with them as a paid client.

This is a much more effective method of engaging potential clients in conversation, because it involves a process of mutual discovery and isn’t just a case of one party attempting to flog a service or product to another.

How to Master the Sales Conversation is what we’ll focus on, in this, the second in our series of 3 articles on the ‘Art of Selling’.

Generating leads

Before you reach the point of having conversations with potential clients, you first need to grow your sales funnel.

It doesn’t have to be overflowing with prospects to start having great conversations. Some of the best lists are small, because they are made up entirely of ideal clients. But you do need to have some people in your funnel and be actively growing it.

There are many ways to increase your sales funnel and listed below are a few examples of how to do that, but remember this isn’t an exhaustive list. Keep in mind, once leads are in your funnel you’ll have the ability to strengthen your relationships with them – by connecting with them regularly.

Networking in-person

So this means asking questions, offering solutions or options, reading what the person is saying and sharing your views, insights and stories, and making sure to follow-up with new connections.

Networking online

Networking online is often overlooked. Consider all the Facebook groups you belong to, or connections you have on LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+. Imagine if all those people were in the same room; would you talk to no one? It’s surprising how few people take advantage of networking opportunities online. Don’t let yourself be one of the people missing out. Apply the same principles to your online groups, as you do to your in-person networking.

Networking is perhaps the activity that most people are familiar with in this context, and without question it’s an effective approach to developing and nurturing relationships. Business and networking groups/clubs also offer a terrific opportunity for like-minded business people to connect in mutually beneficial ways.

Blogging

Guest blogging is a great way to drive a ton of traffic to your website. However, remember to offer a freebie to incentivise people to sign-up to your email list. Add the sign-up link in the blogs and make it relevant to the content of your blog.

Webinars

Running webinars is a brilliant way to generate leads, as you can demonstrate your knowledge and expertise, in real-time, crossing geographies and time zones.

Presenting 

Presenting in any form is an extremely effective way to generate leads – try being interviewed for a podcast or video, and don’t forget to let people hear about it through your tried and tested email marketing.

Qualifying a lead

Adding to your sales funnel is something you need to do constantly to ensure it is giving you a continuous stream of clients. However, not every interaction is worth jumping at. It’s important to evaluate which prospects deserve your effort and which are likely to lead to a dead-end.

Knowing the best ways to effectively qualify a sales lead, can be the difference between getting a brand new client or wasting a lot of energy and time. By managing the sales conversation and asking the right questions, you can rapidly find out if you’re on the right track. In the first instalment of our Art of Selling series you can find some of the questions you should ask.

The All-Important Discovery Session

The discovery session that you offer a potential client, is your consultation phase – where both you and your potential client determine if working together is the next best step.

Step 1 – Ask powerful questions

Turning a conversation into a sale is about building and developing a connection. Among the most common reasons small business owners lose out on sales, is because they fail to respond to the client’s questions. Understanding your client’s requirements and needs, helps form your understanding of exactly how you can match your knowledge and expertise to those needs.

To discover even more about your clients, you should aim to use questions designed to get them to open up. For example:

  • That’s really interesting tell me more about that…
  • I’m really curious about this. How did you know it was the right course/product/service for you?

In my view, no sales discussion is a wasted opportunity, providing you have qualified the lead before you invest your time. Remember, even when the answer is ‘no’ it doesn’t mean no forever, it just means not now.

Step 2 – Listening closely

Your enthusiasm and belief in your service or products, plays an essential role in the conversation being successful. Yet, if you do all the talking, you are likely to lose the sale. A great exercise for finding out exactly how well you are coming across, when engaging with your client – is to record yourself. Ask a couple of close friends who are business savvy, to spare 20-30 minutes of their time to allow you to go through your sales discussion/pitch. Urge them to ask questions throughout the discussion.

At the end, ask them for candid feedback. Find out:

  • How well they understood your offer?
  • Did you articulate your offer clearly and concisely or did you ramble?
  • How well did you address their questions?
  • Where there any challenging moments?

Armed with this information, listen back to how you position yourself and your services or products – and ask yourself where you might be able to make improvements? Usually a client wants to hear exactly how well you understand the challenges and issues facing them.

Any conversation with a potential client should always be a two-way street. It should not be a monologue or a one-sided sale pitch, so make sure to ask questions and really listen to the answers.

Step 3 – Dealing with objections

When having your discovery session, your prospective client might have some objections regarding why they should purchase from you. A skilful sales person will certainly be able to manage these objections in such a way that makes the client feel good.

Understanding the reasons

The first stage in managing your client’s objections is to be really clear about the real reasons for resisting your offer. In some cases, clients will say things like ‘I’m not certain’ or ‘Let me consider it’ or ‘The timing isn’t right’ or even ‘It’s a bit overwhelming’.

When this happens ask the following:

  • ‘I understand you have your reasons for saying that, do you mind if I ask what they are?’

It is extremely unlikely they will say ‘No’ to this inquiry, they’re a lot more likely to provide you with a point of view.

Just before you start to deal with this objection you have to make sure there is nothing else, so it’s always good to ask.

  • ‘Is that the only reason you are unable to move forward now?’

If they say ‘No’, then return to your initial question and continue going through this loop until all the objections are on the table.

Aligning yourself with your client

Aligning yourself with your prospective client is crucial, as you basically give them permission to have a difference of opinion with you. This takes a lot of pressure off your client and you can do this by saying:

  • ‘I recognise that this might seem like a huge commitment.’
  • ‘I know that I am asking you to take a leap of faith.’

Once you have made this kind of statement, you should find that the client’s barriers will drop. They will feel much more comfortable and won’t feel that you are trying to be a pushy sales person. From there, you can move to the next stage.

Getting your client’s commitment

The next step is to obtain a commitment from your client and agree a solution to their objections. You can do this by asking:

  • ‘If we could find a way to take care of that issue would you then like to move forward?’

If they say ‘No’ to this question, then they are probably hiding an additional objection and you will need to go back to the beginning to find out what it is. It’s more likely after unveiling this objection, that they will say ‘Yes’ to your question.

Keep in mind that some potential clients are naturally a lot more cautious than others, and they need to feel really comfortable that the risk they are about to take is justified.

The ‘Close’

Closing focusses on progressing your conversation to the point of acquiring a sale. It’s generally the most difficult part in the process, but if you work methodically through the stages outlined above, then the ground has been laid for a smooth progression to this position.

The key to effective closing, is reaching the point of having earned the trust of your potential client. They also have to understand exactly what it is you’re offering, and why it might help them overcome a particular issue or serve a purpose from their perspective.

However, it’s also crucial to put your proposition to the client in no uncertain terms, and to establish with certainty whether or not they are ready to commit. As much as 80% of sales are lost because the business owner fails to close a deal, by not actually asking for the order they were after.

At this stage, you want to help your client come to a decision, so provide certainty and reassurance by sharing positive feedback, stories and testimonials from other delighted clients.

Then ask them if they feel this is right for them and how they would like to proceed. Having patience is essential, and some clients simply take much longer and need more time before they say ‘yes’. You should avoid any sense of being pushy in your sales technique, but it’s vitally important not to let any clear opportunities slip through your fingers just because you didn’t ask the right question at the most important moments.

Successful selling takes a certain set of skills that can be improved upon with practice. So you should know that the more discussions you have with potential clients, the more adept you will become at filling your funnel and driving clients to an easy ‘yes’.

I would love to hear your views and comments on selling, have you had any big wins or lost an important sale, share your thoughts in the comments below and I look forward to connecting with you.

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