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How to step-up your sales team

Stop pitching start listeningA couple of years back, while engaged on a sales strategy project, I was asked if I could source a list of about 500 “ideal target” businesses. I searched the web for databases, but couldn’t find anything that fit the bill, so as evening approached, I e-mailed a couple of what appeared to be the most credible sites, to get a sense of what was available, and how much it would cost.

First thing in the morning I got a call from James. It took me a bleary-eyed minute to work out my phone number had been in the signature on my e-mail, and my reaction was pretty frosty. I just wanted a price, not a pushy salesman calling me halfway through my first coffee of the day. But that’s not what I got. Instead, I got a text-book example of a sales technique that I still use in my training workshops to this day.

Stop Pitching and Start Listening

The problem with sales people in most places is one of mindset. They’re expected to pitch, persuade and convince; to handle objections, and to push for “the close”.

They’re trained to talk through cold-call scripts, then sent out to talk through power-point decks and to leave behind brochures and handouts that can keep on talking even when they’re gone. But they aren’t trained to listen.

If that sounds like your organisation, I guarantee you’re losing sales.

The best salespeople don’t start out trying to sell, they start out trying to understand. They get your permission to ask questions – just two types but they ask them in a variety of ways. First they ask about the problem: about what you have, or what you’re doing now, and what’s not working as it should; what implications that has for you and your business and what you think you might be missing out on as a result. Then they ask about the opportunity: maybe what you’d like things to be like, and what benefit that would bring to you and your customers.

The more intelligently and expertly they ask, probe, and make you think, the better both of you will understand what’s required and the more they build trust and credibility. Only when it’s clear what you really want, do they start to offer solutions. James got “permission to ask” by explaining that they had over a million businesses on their database, and the more clearly we could specify exactly what we needed and precisely how we wanted to use it, the more cost-effective it would be.

Was James the lowest price? I have no idea. All I know is that he asked all the right questions, and gave me exactly what I needed. He undoubtedly saved me money, and he absolutely earned the business. Whenever I need data now, his is the first number I call.

Bottom Line: I spent years as a professional buyer, and while a pitch might be great on Dragon’s Den and The Apprentice, it’s the last thing you want your team doing in a buyer’s office. Ask the right questions though, and you may just be the answer to every buyer’s prayers.

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