How to Coach Your Salespeople to Have Powerful Conversations


By Bruce Wedderburn
Originally published on SellingPower.com

Most companies are currently dealing with many pressing business challenges in some form or fashion. These might include

  • Aggressive growth targets in a commoditized market
  • A high number of stalled pipeline opportunities eventually being lost to “no decision”
  • A sales team too heavily focused on selling product versus value during the sales process.

Meanwhile, a new sales or business technology surfaces almost every day, along with dramatic claims about how it will solve all your business problems and help you blaze a trail to the future.

Unfortunately, an inconvenient truth is often overlooked in all this onrush of technology. No matter how many CRM and AI systems, apps, tools, plugins, or dashboards your people have at their fingertips, sales leaders must confront three unavoidable realities:

  1. Your salespeople still need to have conversations with customers.
  2. The quality and quantity of those customer conversations will determine, more than any other factor, how differentiated your solutions are to customers, the level of value your customers will perceive, and the degree to which your opportunities and revenues advance.
  3. The quality and quantity of those customer conversations will also determine, more than any other factor, the ROI from your technology investments.

Technology won’t replace the need for these pivotal human conversations. The success of those conversations ultimately comes down to the salesperson’s skill, motivation, attitudes, and beliefs about selling.

Coaching Your Salespeople to Have Powerful Conversations

What are the key indicators your salespeople are maximizing the value of their customer conversations? If you want the information that goes into your CRM or pipeline management tool to be accurate and able to help close opportunities, then build a sales organization that stays laser focused on answering these critical questions.

  1. Do you and the customer both clearly understand the customer’s challenges and needs? According to one study, “State of the Conversation Report,” customers say this is the most overlooked area – often rushed through or skipped entirely by salespeople in their haste to deliver insights, challenge or teach (aka “present solutions”). The salesperson needs to think about whether his or her customer clearly sees a gap between the current situation and the desired situation. The wider the gap, the more value customers will see in the solution.
  2. Does the customer understand the cost of inaction? It doesn’t matter if you’re selling security or retirement solutions, surgical equipment, or pest control services; when you get down to it, you are selling the one thing that, as humans, we are hardwired not to do: change. You’re asking them to change the way they do things, change suppliers, upset the status quo, abandon the known. “The State of the Conversation Report” also indicates that executive-level decision makers are 70 percent more willing to make a decision to change if you position their current situation in terms of what they stand to lose by not changing versus what they could gain by changing. We are more likely to make a decision to avoid pain than to gain benefits. To gain traction during the sales process, salespeople must know which questions will help customers understand the risks and consequences of remaining in their current situation.
  3. What commitments are you getting from customers at the end of each meeting that will move the opportunity forward? In other words, what is the customer doing to advance the sale? Is it a specific action or a vague statement? Unspecific comments like, “Call me in three months” or, “Send me a proposal” put all the responsibility back on the salesperson. There’s no commitment to action on behalf of the customer – and that’s a major contributor to stalled pipelines.
  4. Do you know who is on the decision making team and what role your key contact will be playing? Too many opportunities are “single threaded.” In other words, proposals and presentations are delivered only to one person or one department without a clear understanding of how the decision will be made and by whom.

To gain these insights, your salespeople need a degree of skill in planning and conducting a customer-focused sales conversation with a range of buyers involved in the decision. For most of the team, making these conversational skills habitual will require repetition, reinforcement, accountability, and coaching.

Few people doubt the immense potential new technologies offer in terms of improving efficiency and enabling organizations to manage their sales and overall businesses with much greater precision than ever before. It’s a huge step forward in the evolution away from the subjective guesswork of yesteryear. But, to maximize these exciting new technologies, the fundamental conversation skills of salespeople must be front and center.


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