I believe there are four skills that are critical for effective performance in B2B sales. Don’t make the mistake of thinking these are steps. You may exercise one more than the others at different stages of the sales process, but in most of the stages, you employ all of them at once.
- Preparing. Preparing includes product knowledge, but it goes well beyond that. In the age of the world-wide web and the customer relationship management (CRM) system, there is no excuse for approaching a sales call without a good understanding of the customer’s business, competitive position, advantages and threats, markets, recent history, and history with your company. Sales is an experimental science. Use the information gleaned during your research to formulate a hypothesis of a customer’s needs, then refine or change that idea as you listen to the customer.
- Listening. Having prepared and developed a hypothesis, you call on the customer and begin to get the customer’s story. Your listening skills can actually encourage the customer to talk, which provides more opportunity for listening, which encourages the customer to talk, and so forth. This can become a self-sustaining process. One of the reasons listening salespeople are so successful is that they gain so much information. The more information you have about your customer, the better chance you will have of showing her the connection between her needs and what you are selling.
- Questioning. Your questioning is not random. You are guided in your questioning by the hypothesis you create during your preparation and by what you’ve learned so far of the customer’s story. You ask questions that will help you understand, or refine your understanding of, the customer’s current state, the state that led to it, and what stands between the customer and his goals. This information helps you to form a picture of the customer’s motivators, both in business and personal terms.
- Working through Issues. As you work creatively to show the customer how your product or service meets his need, there are obstacles. The customer asks hard questions or raises objections. In dealing with these questions and objections, you need to use your questioning skills to discover what’s really behind them. But when you discover the real issues, you need to have the skill to work through them. This skill consists of knowing your limits (sometimes you need to simply walk away from a deal) and coming up with creative ways to reduce obstacles (“I can give you the price you want if you give me some flexibility on delivery time.”).
It can take creativity to help the customer see how your product or service meets his need. But when you make the connection between his need and what you’re selling, you make the sale.
And of course, the biggest issue you work through is whether the customer will actually give you the order. Most sales training treats the closing like the climax in an adventure movie. In Communispond sales programs, however, the closing is more like a foregone conclusion. Our graduates often report it as anticlimactic.
Here’s an interesting thing about these four skills. If you plotted the sale by the amount of time spent using each skill, it should come out so that Preparing and Working through Issues each take up about one eighth of the process. Questioning takes up one quarter. Listening takes up half.