The following is a guest post from Nancy Bleeke, President of Sales Pro Insider, Inc. and author of Conversations That Sell, a must-read for anyone who needs to help others make decisions or commitments. Since 1998, her focus has been equipping companies to grow sales, customer loyalties, and employee engagement with training, consulting, assessments, and tools that stick.
Is sales performance an art or science? It’s a long debated question among marketers and sales leaders. The answer is that it’s both. The key is to know when and how science sets us up for the art of the information exchange necessary for winning sales.
The Science of Sales
The science of sales is much easier these days with CRMs and the availability of prescriptive and predictive data. All sales leaders should use this “science” or data to gather and provide information to:
– Ensure your sales process is in alignment with your buyer’s buying process.
– Evaluate whether opportunities move through your pipeline effectively. If not, the data can be used to diagnose the sticking or unproductive spots so you can make the adjustments.
– Provide easily accessible data on prospects for use by the sales rep.
– Forecast revenue.
– Identify coaching and training opportunities to ensure maximum productivity for each rep.
In selling, information is key in knowing how to best position your product or service. We can use technology to push out information deemed important by our science to prospects in marketing efforts or share information on prospects or customers with reps.
The challenge is this: as helpful as this scientific data is, and as easy as it is to use technology for gathering and sharing this data, no data can replace the actual information exchange with the buyer that often needs to take place. This information exchange slows down prospects to engage with the rep and starts the sale so the rep can provide what the buyer needs, when they need it, to confidently make a buying decision.
The Art of Sales
That’s where the “art” of selling comes in: make the most of the actual time with your prospect or buyer in the sales conversation. Unfortunately, based on thousands of sales conversation observations, this is where sales reps are typically ill-equipped to succeed. They are either too scripted or not trained at all in how to use scientific sales information and translate it into the art of the sales conversation, where the right information exchange makes the sale.
Well-meaning sales managers and corporate trainers script what reps should say when they get time with the buyer. The problem is that a script is good only as long as the buyer follows their part as well. If the prospect goes “off script,” too many sales reps continue on with the script and make no sense. This is evidenced by the number of times I have been called “Mr.” even after saying my name is Nancy. I have also been pitched something that has absolutely no relevance to me or my business.
If a rep doesn’t understand why each part of the conversation is important and how to flex or adapt to the buyer’s responses in real time, he or she may come off as the irritating self-focused salesperson EVERY buyer hates, and most salespeople hate to be.
A productive sales conversation is when the sales rep uses the data or “science of selling” to prepare for a conversation with the buyer, focused on what’s in it for the buyer! The conversation is productive for all involved when each party’s time is used well and an objective is accomplished.
The data should be used to make the information exchange within the conversation relevant to that prospect. This is collaborative selling in its essence. From the start to the end of the conversation, reps will have more opportunity to learn the information needed to position value and close the deal as the prospect shares what is most important to them and what they need to make a quick and confident decision.
The 4 Cs to Productive Sales Conversations
1. Connect with the buyer to engage them and earn the right for further conversation. The connection may be business focused or something personal. What’s important is to set the stage for a conversation versus a sales “pitch” or one-way thrust of information.
2. Confirm and clarify the information they know in advance about the prospect’s problems, opportunities, wants, and needs and build on it with effective open-ended questions based on what the prospect shares with them.
3. Correlate any information about your solution specifically to what the prospect’s specific situation is. Each data point shared should be directly connected into a “what’s in it for them” or not shared at all.
4. Consolidate and close the conversation by recapping what was learned and what your solution will do. Obtain a commitment, whether it is a final purchase decision or a commitment to the next step in their decision making.
Sales conversations are not always the same because the prospect is not the same.
The science of sales increases the probability of engaging the prospect in a conversation which “gets it done” and accomplishes the sales objective. The information from the conversation populated back into your “system” helps fuel future predictive and prescriptive insights—and that reciprocation between the science and art of selling is what helps sales teams consistently win more sales.
To learn more about the science of sales, download the free eBook, From Art to Science: 5 Steps to Predictable Sales Growth.