In sales, and with many other things in life, you should begin with the end in mind. But exactly what is the end when thinking about sales? When it comes to the prospecting phase, the end appears to be getting that initial conversation – the first call, if you will. This focus by sales organizations on the first call tends to either be about what they want to “tell” the customer about their value or an attempt to qualify for the next phase.
In the gold rush to “share insight” and “challenge the customer,” many salespeople are putting the insight cart before the relationship horse. We would argue that the end game of prospecting is getting the second call.
Of course, we understand the pressures for salespeople to get that first call. The entire sales effectiveness and sales management machine is in pursuit of new business opportunities. To gain these opportunities, it is counterintuitive, in this fast-paced environment, to think these opportunities will happen without talking about all the value we can bring.
There is often a spray and pray quality to these first encounters. However, if we reframe the entire effort towards getting the second call, this would transform our approach.
According to Psychology Today, people like talking about themselves because it activates the same part of the brain that lights up when we eat really good food. Talking about ourselves signals a neurological buzz that releases dopamine and gives us that feeling of gratification. There is a lot of research about customers wanting to be understood and listened to – there is no research that says someone wants to be “pitched to.”
While it might seem like a no-brainer to focus on what you are going to say during the first call, you should take that misguided energy and redirect it to what questions will you ask and how will you demonstrate understanding. Rather than be a story-teller, be a story-seeker.
Demonstrating genuine curiosity and encouraging a customer to tell you about themselves will increase the likelihood they’ll want to talk to you again. It will also, somewhat shockingly, differentiate you from your pull-the-string and talk competitors.
In our podcast, “Your Success is My Success,” John Reid and sales professional Christina Richter discuss the art of sales and how to think of sales as a chance to connect with people in a way that helps them be more successful. If you apply that belief system to your sales approach, it shifts the focus from your product or service to the realization that the connection you make with potential customers will do more to serve you both in the long term.
Focusing on the challenging and insight approach to sales, without tending to relationship, is problematic. It prevents us from gaining the power of rapport, and to a lesser degree, reciprocity. Humans are naturally inclined to identify patterns, particularly when things come in sets of three. We’ve applied that to the art of sales and broken it down into the three essential conversations:
- Conversation for Relationship – It’s important to build trust during this conversation and to identify your customer’s communication style and flex your style in order to align. This part of the conversation should focus on questioning and listening, as well as orienting to their needs versus your needs. This conversation can take as little as 10 minutes or several months. In this conversation the customer is trying to answer the question, “Do I fully trust this person and want to work with them?”
- Conversation for Opportunity – Now that you have a relationship, the conversation shifts to meaningful opportunities. These are not “get-away rom me opportunities” in which the customer hopes we will either leave them alone or give them a better number they can use with the incumbent. These are real needs identified by the customer. In this conversation you should focus on shaping the opportunity by challenging the problem as given. Here is where challengers and insight salespeople excel. In order to build trust, you may opt to walk away from some opportunities at this phase – where there is not a compelling case to be made.
- Conversation for Commitment – Now you have a relationship and a meaningful opportunity. Your ability to continue to control the sales process is critical. Most sales mistakes and delays in the conversation for commitment are a sign of errors in earlier conversations.
This first conversation for relationship is not about being liked. It is not about bringing pizza or doughnuts to a meeting. It is about letting the customer feel heard and understood. Listening is arguably the greatest empathy tool we have. Simply less us and more them is what it takes to get to the second call.