I've just been working with a group of experienced sales people who, despite plenty of training, field observation and a greater volume than usual of coaching, are still only converting 1 in 5 prospects against a sector norm of 1 in 3. After some detailed exploration and analysis, I think we've finally got to the root cause and taken the right course of action. The turnaround is immediate and dramatic. Early figures suggest 1 in 2.5 conversion from enquiry to sale but even if this levels out to 1 in 3, the upturn in performance and revenue - at the same profit margin - is significant!
So, on the surface, these are skilled people, seemingly doing everything right. High levels of awareness, regular self and team based critique, regular review of successes and failures, regular focus on process, skill and behaviour. Somehow this hasn’t been enough to produce the results they desire. So where is the gap?
Exploration and analysis revealed that these people know how to create an excellent first impression, how to build rapport, how to ask great questions, how to present solutions, how to answer objections and even how to close. The underlying problem or gap we uncovered was both simple and complex - simple to observe and experience, but complex in getting seasoned, battle scarred sales people to buy into!
All of the great skills and behaviours they were using, were being applied in isolation with no sense of 'build' throughout the sales journey. Is 'build' the right word? I'm happy with 'build' but need to add 'linkage' or even 'thread'. Maybe even more than ‘build’ or ‘linkage’ or ‘thread’- possibly something about the sum of the whole being greater than the individual parts? I guess if it’s difficult to explain, it’s reasonable that it might be difficult for some sales people to grasp and apply.
Let me try in this way… taking a prospect through a sales journey is a disciplined and linear process - a series of steps and each step must be performed brilliantly before moving forward to the next step. Only when we have executed steps 1 to 5 with outstanding skill can we move on to step 6, and it is everything we have built in steps 1 to 6 that allows us to execute step 7 with the same level of impact - or even a growing amount of impact. Each completed step allows us to refer back to all previous steps and take things from them to make the next step even stronger - that’s what I mean by 'build'. When I say 'take things from them', I’m referring to the things our prospect has shared with us, their use and choice of language, their style, their character, their personality, their language preferences, the clues they have given us regarding the buying triggers or convincer patterns - maybe their potential objections, concerns, desires, needs, wants.
If any step through the process is handled badly and if we fail to keep the prospect fully engaged and 'with us' through each step, we will experience growing challenges as we arrive at each new step. Why? because when we look back over previous steps we have completed, and we look for things to refer to and 'build' upon, we struggle to find powerful things to use - because we didn’t create them! it’s almost like climbing up a staircase with each step beneath us crumbling to dust as we move forward - we look back for things to refer to and find that they have crumbled away into insignificance!
It has been a struggle to get there but now that they've got it, and more importantly, bought it, there is no stopping them and they have a new confidence and hunger. It's amazing what a taste of success does for sales people!
In summary… We need to establish the strongest possible selling platform by preparing well and delivering all the positive skills and behaviours mentioned above. However, all of this in isolation, or in mini stand-alone packages, will not produce the results we expect. It's about how we position our role and objectives from the very beginning and how we stack up the intelligence (soft and hard) gathered as a result of the great questions we ask and how we proactively listen to and challenge the answers we receive. It's about how we adapt the solution to the needs expressed and anticipate the questions, queries and objections we expect to hear.
A great test for us is... If we can't present our solutions starting with a series of 'you said...' Statements, then we haven't questioned or listened well enough and this might be because we didn't build rapport or create an outstanding first impression - in other words we didn't establish a strong selling platform and then build on it with every step of the journey. Using the prospects language and playing back their words is key to selling and as they us give us more, we have more to build on and our platform gets stronger.
Selling is a beautiful thing! It can be complex and at the same time, so simple. Taking the prospect with us and building on each step of the journey has been a revelation for these people. I love it when a plan comes together!
By Chris Gale, Commercial Director / Solutions and Delivery Specialist, Xceeda Group. The Xceeda mission is quite simply to improve the performance of individuals, teams and organisations. They do this at strategic and operational levels by developing the knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviours required to achieve goals, targets and growth.