The Richardson's Sales Blog offers expert advice, sales tips and training enablement content for today's leading sales and learning professionals. Richardson is a global sales training and performance improvement company that helps leading organizations improve performance, drive results, and execute their vision. This blog also includes topics such as Consultative Selling, Sales..
Sales professionals can leverage the skill of storytelling to compel a customer to buy.
In our latest white paper, Selling with Data and Storytelling, we look at how sales professionals close more deals with data to legitimize a solution and at the contextual power of a story to promote it. Specifically:
The importance of “right-sizing” data for clear, concise messaging
The three factors that drive persuasion when using data
How using “preattentive attributes” draws customers’ attention to key takeaways
The five-part structure for building stories that persuade
Learn why when it comes to selling, data is the fuel and story is the engine.
If you would like to enable your sales professionals with the process and skills to tell a great story that will to more closed business, please contact us.
Dr. Angelika Dimoka wanted to know more about how the brain functions under trust and distrust. So, she designed a study and found a few willing participants to subject themselves to a brain scan. Their compensation: $35.
With MRI technology, she was able to see images of brain activity based on blood flow changes. One of her findings was that “the brain areas associated with trust and distrust adequately predict price premiums.” This has important implications for sales professionals because in an increasingly competitive marketplace, it’s become difficult to protect the full value of the sale. Customers, with greater access to information and buying options, are demanding lower prices. Meanwhile, as differentiation diminishes, sales professionals have few places to go. Too often, they reduce the scope of the sale to meet pricing demands, or they relinquish valuable terms. Fortunately, Dr. Dimoka’s work offers some interesting ways for sales professionals to overcome this challenge.
After exhaustively reviewing the scans, she learned that “the neural correlates of distrust are stronger predictors of price premiums than those of trust.” What does this mean? It tells us that distrust is, in fact, likely to have a bigger effect on price than trust.
Why is this?
The answer may be hidden in the fact that additional research shows that “distrust usually involves a strong emotional component while trust does not.” These strong emotions invigorate the customer to hold firm on their demands for a lower cost. In more extreme cases, it provokes them to walk away entirely. However, distrust is much more than the absence of trust. For sales professionals, avoiding the characteristic of distrust is just as important as fostering trust. Moreover, “low distrust is not the same as high trust,” because the two are such independent constructs.
The question remains: given the clarity of these findings, how can sales professionals avoid distrust to preserve the financial value of the sale? Here are a few ways to earn trust:
Foster a Relationship of Openness
In a piece published in The Journal of Consumer Research, Harvard Professor Leslie K. John and others found that using less formality in asking for sensitive information yielded better results. Sales professionals, therefore, should foster a relationship and openness rather than resort to formality that distances one another. This idea does not mean taking a casual approach to the sale. Sales professionals still need to execute plenty of preparation and follow through. Rather, the takeaway from this research is that there is value in developing a relationship with a customer to a point in which the conversation flows. Reaching this point requires the sales professional to gain more self-awareness. That is, they must observe their presence and understand not only how they appear to themselves, but how they appear to the customer.
Rise to the Status of an Advisor
Less than half of customers believe that sellers adequately address their problems, according to Gallup. Why? Too often, the sale is characteristic of a transaction and nothing more. Once completed, the relationship ends. Meanwhile, the original nature of the challenge changes; therefore, the solution must change. This trend underscores the need for longer-term solutions, which can only come from sales professionals who rise to the status of a trusted advisor. Customers develop trust when they see that the sales professional will remain a resource through implementation and beyond. Doing so means taking the time to understand impending industry challenges while keeping communication open with the customer. When the sales professional becomes a trusted advisor, the customer seeks their opinion and offers access to more senior-level decision makers. Value doesn’t just reside in the product; it resides in the relationship.
Conscientiousness becomes a competitive advantage when it’s applied to interactions with the customer. In these instances, the sales professional takes the time to understand customer needs. They do this by asking questions and truly listening to their answers. As a result, the relationship becomes less transactional and more collaborative. Taking this approach offers an advantage because so many other businesses have built their models around volume rather than value. Conscientious sales professionals uncover the customer’s conception of the problem. Buyers today are bombarded with opinions and options. There can be a multitude of ways to solve an issue, and navigating the best path is challenging. As a result, customers may misunderstand the nature of their needs. They misdiagnose the problem.
The strongest sellers take the time to determine if the customer has fallen into this trap. The intention is not to agree on all points; it is to understand all points. Sales professionals can overcome this inertia by eliciting feedback. Without this kind of exchange, it’s difficult to gauge how well the solution will fit the need. Purchasing decisions are inherently emotional. The customer has professional and financial stakes in play. A thorough sales professional understands these stakes and how they connect to the customer’s world. Therefore, they foster openness to keep the customer talking.
As Dr. Dimoka’s work shows, distrust is a powerful, emotional response that has an even bigger influence over price than trust. Therefore, sales professionals need to be cognizant of how to avoid missteps that may surface distrust. Doing so means encouraging openness in the relationship, earning the status of a trusted advisor, and taking a conscientious approach to every step in the selling process.
Click here to download Richardson’s complimentary research, “Understanding Selling Challenges in 2018”
Though they see a problem, that only means that they’re thinking critically about the solution, which means you have their attention. Moreover, if they’re vocalizing such a concern, they’ve provided the ultimate clue to eventually closing the sale by explaining where the roadblock is.
Effective sales professionals use this valuable information to resolve the objection.
Resolving an objection is different than overcoming one. Overcoming a sales objection often results in relinquishing terms to the customer and giving them what they want at your expense.
Submitting to lower costs
Faster implementation time
Adding additional capabilities without increasing price
In the heat of the moment, overcoming an objection is too easy a trap. Selling is difficult, and it gets more challenging every year; therefore, rescuing the sale, even at an enormous cost, is often preferred over losing it entirely.
The mistake is thinking that only two choices exist: overcoming the objection or losing the sale.
In truth, sales professionals can pursue a third avenue by understanding the customer’s needs and concerns to resolve the objection, win the sale, and preserve its full value.
Committing to this strategy starts with an understanding of how overcoming and resolving are different.
Overcoming Sales Objections Creates Demands; Resolving Sales Objections Creates a Path to the Sale
Consider this example:
In a sales dialogue, a customer vocalizes an objection that the cost is too high. A sales professional may impulsively respond by asking, “What cost do you need?”
This response is the wrong approach.
First, it signals a willingness on the part of the sales professional to come down in price; they’ve cracked the door, and many customers will be all too happy to open it all the way.
Second, this question replaces one demand with another, which gets the sales professional nowhere.
Instead, a sales professional will be more successful by taking steps to understand the customer’s needs and concerns.
They could ask, “What are you comparing us to when you say that the cost is too high?”
This question is more effective than asking what cost the customer needs because it takes the customer’s generic response and attempts to clarify why they believe that the cost is too high.
With an answer to this question, a sales professional might learn that the customer thought the cost was excessive under the assumption that it had only the capabilities of similar low-cost options.
With this information, the sales professional can articulate the differentiated aspects of their solution and why they warrant a higher cost.
Overcoming Objections in Sales Leads to Defensiveness; Resolving Them Leads to Openness
Overcoming objections in sales means more than giving in. Some sales professionals attempt to overcome objections by ramming through them with a defensive posture.
In the previous example, they might respond to the customer’s price objections by defensively stating that quality carries a cost.
This position immediately turns the conversation into an adversarial exchange. A customer will take this response as a confrontational remark. Moreover, the question is leading, which, understandably, will frustrate the customer, as it’s a clear attempt to elicit a specific response.
A sales professional focused on resolving the objection will go further and explore needs.
They will follow the objection with a question about the details of what the customer needs to solve the challenge at hand. Doing so takes the conversation in a more productive direction.
The result is a conversation that keeps the sale in play.
Defensiveness only encourages the customer to walk away. If the customer has concerns about the price, it’s the sales professional’s job to understand why and illustrate the value of their solution. The reason for this approach is that quality is relative to cost.
Overcoming Objections Changes the Conversation; Resolving Them Embraces It
Objections are uncomfortable. They often occur in face-to-face meetings; there’s nowhere to hide. As a result, sales professionals, even good ones, may instinctively change the subject.
For example, a customer might call out a missing piece from a solution, a need not addressed by the proposed plan.
This casts an uncomfortable light on the sales professional. With only moments to respond, they may resort to a question like, “When do you need to start implementation?”
There is a spot in the dialogue for this question, but it’s not here. This question unnecessarily complicates the issue and will likely dissuade the customer.
A better reaction is to take the opportunity to go further and understand why the customer needs this missing piece. Getting an answer to this question puts the sales professional on firm ground to discuss how they can meet the customer’s unaddressed concerns.
With a tangential question, like the one above, the dialogue veers off course while the customer’s question is left languishing.
Attempts to overcome sales objections either stop or derail the sales dialogue.
The solution is to ask more questions and understand the objection beneath the objection. Doing so requires the sales professional to have an awareness that nearly all sales dialogues surface objections and that they are not inherently bad.
Committing to this outlook helps prevent the discomfort in the moment that can easily prompt a misstep.
Click here to download Richardson’s complimentary research, “Understanding Selling Challenges in 2018”
Customers are armed with more information than ever before. They’re using this information to form their decisions earlier in the buying process.
In fact, once the sales professional enters the scene, many customers already have a fully formed picture of what they believe is the best way forward. This trend has become a problem for two reasons.
The customer’s perception of the problem may be incomplete or inaccurate.
The customer’s preconceived notion may anchor them to solutions that are not best suited to solving their business challenges.
As a result, sales professionals face more objections. Here, we look at five ways in which professionals can resolve sales objections.
Objections often stem from cognitive dissonance, which is a tendency to discount, dismiss, or oppose information that is new or conflicts with our beliefs because it creates emotional discomfort.
Sales professionals can diffuse feelings of defensiveness by making sure that the customer knows that they’ve been heard. It’s easy to resort to a pattern of talking and then thinking about what to say next. Doing so distracts from the customer’s words. This distraction is a problem because often the path to the sale is in the customer’s words. That is, understanding their stance, even if it’s an oppositional one, clarifies the customer’s needs.
Understanding someone requires concentration and understanding. This “active listening” involves focusing on the customer’s word choice, inflection, and intonation. Becoming attuned to the details of the customer’s responses is important because it clarifies needs.
Beware of self-serving motivations and environmental distractions, all of which hinder active listening.
Finally, take the time to demonstrate that you’ve heard the objection and understand the customer’s message. Understanding doesn’t mean you agree with the customer; it simply means that you’re creating an environment where they can be heard.
2. Ask Questions
Sales professionals can resolve objections with thoughtful questioning. This skill is among the most lacking in business today.
After interviewing hundreds of professionals, The Harvard Business Review reported that “from the customer’s point of view, the greatest need for improvement is in salespeople’s knowledge of the customer’s business and industry.” The finding comes after comparing the inconsistencies between what sales professional believe is expected of them and what the customer wants. Moreover, the research spans industries as varied as financial services, pharmaceuticals, and telecommunications.
Effective questioning starts by providing the rationale for the inquiry. This preface encourages customers to share information. However, questioning shouldn’t be an interrogation.
Sales professionals need to earn the right by balancing their questions with insights. By offering relevant ideas, the sales professional establishes credibility. As the sales professional moves through these questions, they must acknowledge what the customer said as they lead to the next question because it’s too easy for the customer to disengage amid everyday distractions.
3. Use Phrasing and Feedback
The “framing effect” is a psychological principle asserting that the same person will make two different choices depending on how information is presented.
Research from the Journal of General Internal Medicine supports this idea. More than half of the patients studied “chose the medication whose benefits was in relative terms.” Meanwhile, less than 15% chose the medication when practitioners expressed the benefits in absolute terms. That is, patients experienced greater motivation when doctors described the benefits in comparison to another choice. Hearing the benefits without context was less compelling.
Sales professionals can use the framing effect by emphasizing the value in relative terms. Lastly, follow framing with feedback. Remember, the risks associated with not knowing the customer’s outlook are greater than any negativity that the question may elicit. Though it may feel unnatural, checking for feedback is critical.
4. Foster Trust
The sales cycle is often long, and an objection is rarely the end of the road. In the meantime, sales professionals still have opportunities to build trust and credibility with follow-up.
Delivering on a promise, no matter how small, earns the customer’s “knowledge-based” trust, which develops from actions that are consistent with words. Therefore, follow-up is critical. Sharing and recording information about the call shortly after hanging up is important to preserving the details.
In many cases, the follow-up requires coordination on the part of others. Therefore, the sales professional must remember that even if others are expected to send additional material, it is their job to ensure that it happens. Keep internal communication consistent.
5. Leverage a Strong Value Statement
As competitive pressures rise, customers need solutions that offer a strong ROI.
Many objections arise from a belief that the solution will fail to deliver on this need. Therefore, sales professionals need a carefully crafted value statement linking the sales professional’s capabilities to the customer’s challenges.
The value statement must address what’s important to the customer, how the sales professional can help, and what outcomes can be expected. Ensure that such a statement speaks from the customer’s perspective and offers ideas that are specific to their industry.
A value statement is effective because it’s brief. With a concise articulation of value, a sales professional can form a connection. This connection bolsters the professional’s presence, which helps resolve sales objections.
Objections are a normal part of the sales cycle. Hearing one shouldn’t dissuade sales professionals. Instead, it should be seen as an indication that the customer is thinking critically about the solution and willing to engage in a dialogue.
Every sales dialogue eventually leads to a customer objection. Therefore, sales professionals shouldn’t try to avoid them. Instead, they should sharpen their sales skills and come prepared to resolve objections.
The problem, however, is that different customers across various industries will have different objections.
The solution – a four-step model – applies to any sales objection because it’s built around a client-focused framework. Here, we look at the specifics behind of framework and how sales professionals can apply the concepts in any environment.
Engaging the Challenge Before the Solution
When encountering an objection, too often the natural impulse is to counter the customer’s statement. This urge comes from the ego. We feel compelled to stand our ground and assert our position.
Effective sales professionals work to silence this involuntary response.
Their first step: acknowledge the customer’s objection. This approach is critical in selling because research repeatedly shows that “listening is positively related to buyer’s trust in and satisfaction with the salesperson.”
This step is characterized by empathy for the customer’s objection. Begin by stating that you’ve heard the customer’s position. Doing so means more than just outwardly showing that you’ve heard their words with “scripted sincerity.” The sales professional must engage in active, empathetic listening that seeks to inhabit the customer’s perspective. Interestingly, research tells us that this is both “the single most important skill that salespeople can possess” and, at the same time, “one of the most important reasons that salespeople are unsuccessful.”
The strongest sales professionals understand the importance of listening. They genuinely think about what the customer has vocalized because they understand that reaching a close means navigating the objection.
Benefiting Both Sides of the Table by Clarifying Needs
The customer’s objection reveals only a fraction of the true, underlying need. The sales professional’s job is to question and go deeper.
This process is important for both sides of the table.
The sales professional needs the detail to eventually overcome the objection. At the same time, the customer needs to talk through the objection so they can arrive at a more defined description of the challenge. Questioning is diagnosing. It’s impossible to deliver a solution without a clear outline of the challenge.
These should not be leading questions. The sales professional should not attempt to push the customer down a path. Instead, questions help surface the details of the objection. Otherwise, they remain hidden and grow unchecked until they’re too big for even the best sales professional to handle. Most importantly, the answers to these questions guide the sales professional towards the sale.
Even highly experienced sales professionals will find that some business challenges are prohibitively complex. They will not have all the answers. However, when they ask questions, the task of overcoming the objection becomes a team effort.
Drawing a Straight Line to the Solution
In a competitive atmosphere where a customer is considering numerous solutions, sales professionals may resort to a long list of product features.
This compulsion is understandable. Many sales professionals have taken enormous effort to become an expert in every characteristic of the solution. They want to show what they know. Additionally, the more capabilities the solution has, the more powerful it appears. Effective positioning reminds us that articulating only the most relevant features is best.
Positioning is the sales professional’s opportunity to use what they’ve learned while questioning and draw a straight line from the customer’s specific needs to solution capabilities.
Customize the solution. The discussion of features should be limited to only those that connect in a meaningful way to the customer’s challenges. Use clear, concise language.
Avoid the tendency to position early. The key to strong positioning skills is knowing when in the dialogue to articulate solution capabilities. It’s not time to position until you fully understand needs and how the customer thinks. You need to show how the solution will deliver results within the context of the customer’s business.
Eliciting Feedback to Maintain Collaboration
Eliciting feedback is an effective way to maintain momentum in the sale, but too many sales professionals ignore this step thinking it shows weakness or lack of confidence.
Feedback is important because it offers the opportunity to course correct if the customer perceives misalignment between the solution and business needs. Checking must consist of direct questions. The sales professional must determine if the solution satisfies the need.
Feedback also shapes the customers thinking. Asking for feedback invites them to acknowledge that a solution is a viable option. If they believe the solution isn’t a fit, then eliciting feedback encourages more dialogue which helps the sales professional. Without feedback the conversation stalls. Deadlocks lead to dead ends.
Objections should not be feared. In fact, they’re often a good sign. Vocal objections signify that you’ve engaged the customer and that they’re taking you solution seriously. Moreover, objections may not indicate dissatisfaction with the solution. Instead, they might be a hint that you’re moving too fast and not asking enough questions. The key to closing resides in the specific words embedded in the objection. Listen closely.
Factors like competition and commoditization are putting pricing pressures on sales professionals. Customers, armed with more information than ever before, are analyzing their options before their first conversation with the sales professional. When the dialogue begins the customer’s expectations of costs are fixed. The challenge of gaining higher prices or even maintaining the full value of the sale is increasing.
This trend was a key finding in our 2018 Selling Challenges Study which included survey responses from hundreds of sales professionals across industries.
In our latest brief, Gaining Higher Prices with Sharper Negotiation Skills, we look at specific ways sales professionals can design a negotiation strategy that captures the full value of the deal. We cover skills like:
Build trust to overcome commoditization
Know the difference between concessions and trading
Overcoming deadlocks with conceptual buy-in
Promoting the value of the solution with “priming”
Check out the brief and jump-start your sales prospecting strategy today.
Richardson has just launched a new research piece, “Understanding Selling Challenges in 2018.” This annual study of field reps, senior sales professionals, and sales leaders across industries aims to paint a clear picture of existing sales challenges and how they are evolving.
This year’s research paints a picture of intense competition for sales professionals as they work to achieve the momentum needed to win more complex sales.
As buyers become more sophisticated and increasingly aware of the breadth of options available, sales professionals are discovering that they need to respond with smarter strategies and renewed intensity.
Survey participants indicated a need to better articulate value in a market characterized by competition and multiple decision makers on the buying side. Sales professionals are refocusing on the details of the customer’s challenges to better position solutions that fit.
2018 belongs to sales professionals who engage every customer, new or prospective, with a level of understanding, preparation, and insight that rises to the level of a trusted advisor.
Selling in 2018
Pricing was the foremost concern among sales professionals. “Competing against a low-cost provider” reached the highest response at 33%, as more sales professionals felt the pressure to go head-to-head with less expensive solutions. Sellers need to use these available tools to understand not just their own product or service, but their buyer’s needs, internal political environment, buying cycle, and both the client’s and seller’s competitors.
The second most pressing concern at 27% was “combating the status quo,” indicating that buyers face considerable inertia when contemplating a purchase.
The third-largest response at 26% was “knowledge about how to team sell effectively,” revealing that increasingly complex solutions require a group effort to articulate value.
The challenges facing sellers today keep us at Richardson committed to our work: helping sales organizations to improve their performance, make stronger connections with customers, and gain confidence in their power to sell.
In December 2017, Richardson surveyed over 350 sales professionals, managers, and leaders across industries and geographies industries to learn about the challenges they expected to face in 2018. We asked questions that touched upon every phase of the sales cycle, from prospecting to closing.
The study compares these results to the results from previous years.
Our team carefully reviewed the data to create actionable and practical insights to help sales teams determine strategies to overcome these challenges and achieve sales success in 2018 and beyond.
Technology is equipping sales professionals with more capabilities to source leads, but with more choices comes confusion. At the same time, more decision makers are entering the picture further complicating the prospecting process. The result: creating a targeted prospecting strategy is becoming a major challenge for sales professionals today.
This trend was a key finding in our 2018 Selling Challenges Study which included survey responses from hundreds of sales professionals across industries.
In our latest brief, Creating a Targeted Prospecting Strategy, we look at specific ways sales professionals can develop routines that ensure the resources needed to pursue a lead are allocated wisely. We cover strategies like:
Asking a specific sequence of questions to determine the qualifications of a lead
Why sales professionals who prepare a “need benefit” statement get the customer’s attention
What to do when a hard-earned prospect disengages
What questions to ask when outlining best practices
Referrals are powerful because they establish an early connection between the sales professional and the customer. Essentially, the sales professional comes vetted. Here, we look at strategies for requesting referrals and how they can help jump-start a relationship.
1. Start with Mutual Contacts
A mutual contact is the strongest referral. In this case, the referral is someone the sales professional, and the potential customer both know. If the customer trusts the referral, they’re more likely to extend that trust to the sales professional.
This is critical because trust remains a major hurdle in developing a sales relationship. Moreover, starting the relationship with a mutual contact is a powerful strategy for small and large selling organizations alike.
For all the capabilities of today’s robust CRM software, sometimes a simple phone call is the most effective way to start.
2. No Referral? Consider a “Hinge”
Sometimes there is no referral. In this case, it’s helpful to have a “hinge,” a mutual event both the sales professional and the customer attended. A hinge can be a recent trade show, a shared business interest, or a personal connection like graduating from the same school.
This approach still requires preparation. It’s easy to assume that a point of commonality will spark effortless conversation. In truth, the customer is in the middle of a busy day and managing deadlines.
Take the time to plan your words.
3. Use a Relationship Map
Referrals aren’t just for starting a relationship with a new business. Many sales professionals are successful in cross-selling by using referrals from other divisions or groups within a business where a relationship already exists.
In this scenario, a relationship map is helpful. A relationship map is a visual representation of both the reporting relationships between the stakeholders and the power structures between them. The reporting relationships are the “organization chart” of the stakeholders involved in the decision-making process.
The power structure relates to which stakeholders are favorably inclined to the sales professional. Consider this customized approach to finding a referral.
4. Leverage the Power of Reciprocity
Sales professionals can be proactive by giving their customer a referral first.
This approach takes some foresight because its best to give referrals to customers that are in industries relevant to the markets likely to present future opportunities. Success in selling sits on a foundation of mutually beneficial outcomes.
This approach exemplifies that idea perfectly. The customer gets a boost from the referral while the sales professional lays the groundwork for their own referral request later.
5. Prepare and Follow Up
Jumping to the referral process is tempting. However, the sales professional needs to follow the normal routine of understanding the target customer first.
Otherwise, the referral is flying blind. Their lack of knowledge will overshadow the value they can offer by vouching for the sales professional.
Make sure to ask questions about what the new contact might be interested in and how the contact prefers to communicate. Follow up and express appreciation after the contact has made the referral.
Without follow-up, the whole exchange can feel very “you”- centered instead of “client”- centered.
6. It’s All in the Timing
Some of the strongest sales professionals can make the referral come to them. That is, they generate excitement with a new product offering or an especially compelling white paper.
An existing contact may share one of these things on social media. This is the perfect time to ask the contact to provide a referral. Moreover, if the product offering or white paper happens to be relevant to the target contact, the referral can use that material as a conversation starter.
Referrals are the single best way to ignite a sales pursuit strategy.
They allow the sales professional to bypass the gatekeeper with a “pre-sold” message. Additionally, the sales professional reduces the exhaustion and diminished morale that comes from churning through leads because, with referrals, more clients come from fewer leads.
Finally, remember, the referral must be more than an introduction. They must legitimize the sales professional by personally vouching for their ability to solve business challenges.